Lorraine Reich: How well are police trained?
The Community Oversight Task Force is taking a deep look at police training in our community. We are particularly interested to know what training the Nevada County sheriff’s deputies had in the months and years prior to the February shooting resulting in the death of Sage Crawford.
It is our opinion that anyone who listened to the dispatch calls and watched the car cam videos of the incident would have had a hard time determining that Sage Crawford was in a rational state of mind. Those videos showed a distraught mother fearful that the sheriff’s deputies were going to take her children. Sage had not committed a crime.
We recently asked Sheriff Shannan Moon why her newly implemented crisis team wasn’t called to the scene. The pilot program, which began in December 2020, pairs a licensed behavioral health clinician and a sheriff’s deputy to deal with mental health crisis calls. Moon informed us that one of the team was out sick that day and there were no other back-up mental health personnel.
The crisis team program only operates four days a week for 10 hours a day, so what happens if a crisis comes in at other times? Our recommendation is that Nevada County needs a 24/7 “CAHOOTS”-style mobile crisis team that operates 24/7 and does not involve a uniformed and armed officer.
It was apparent from the video that sheriff’s deputies did not employ de-escalation techniques at all. They quickly moved toward her, demanding she cooperate with their directions. What they should have done is back off, speak calmly and call for supervisorial help.
Instead a deputy attacked her with a taser, and at that point Sage pulled out a kitchen knife and ran after the deputy. The other deputy then shot her, discharging five rounds, at least some in her back. As she lay on the ground, bleeding, the deputies continued to demand she “drop the knife.”
It didn’t have to happen this way. In a situation like this, trained crisis personnel know they can take time to deal with the mentally distraught. De-escalation takes time.
At least since 2017, the California Penal Code has mandated the Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training to develop and disseminate guidelines and training on:
(1) The cause and nature of mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.
(2) How to identify indicators of mental disability and respond appropriately.
(3) Conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques for potentially dangerous situations involving a person with a mental disability.
(4) Appropriate language when interacting with a person with a mental disability.
(5) Alternatives to lethal force when interacting with potentially dangerous persons with mental disabilities.
None of these techniques were employed in the Sage Crawford or Gabriel Strickland shootings.
Regarding the matter of the Black Lives Matter Protest on Aug. 9, 2020, in Nevada City, the city’s investigative report concludes that the police officers needed more training. Since July 1, 1999, all police officers in the state are to be trained in handling acts of civil disobedience, including:
1. Reasonable use of force.
2. Dispute resolution.
3. Nature and extent of civil disobedience.
4. Public and officer safety.
5. Documentation, report writing, and evidence collection.
6. Crowd control.
Anyone who attended the Aug. 9 protest would attest to the lack of crowd control or de-escalation methods employed by law officers that day. The events of that day, which many of us watched on social media, depicted angry men who tore banners, signs and cell phones from protesters’ hands. They yelled, “Get out of our town” and threw protesters to the ground. Even more disturbing, police officers appeared in one edited video walk beside and perhaps side with the counter-protesters.
Penal Code section 422.6 defines hate crimes and penalties. That section states: “No person, whether or not acting under color of law, shall by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her by the Constitution or laws of this state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States …”
None of the Nevada City Police officers or sheriff’s deputies present at the protest seemed to think it necessary to defend the peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in their constitutional right to demonstrate, nor does the Nevada City investigative report even mention this.
Virtually all of our law enforcement officers’ records are considered “personnel files” and not subject to public disclosure. We can well understand the need for privacy of officer’s home addresses, medical records, even disciplinary records, but training certificates?
Wouldn’t it be in the interest of the public to know that our officers are properly trained and certified in crowd control, de-escalation, mental illness, homelessness issues, and civil disobedience law? The incidents described above raise serious concerns about officers’ training and practices. The public has no way to access these training records.
Lorraine Reich is a member of the Community Oversight Task Force, a group of concerned citizens who are delving into the policies and practices of local law enforcement, and the Peace and Justice Center of Nevada County. This is part 5 of a series.