Vacaville Police Department Audit Gives Positive Feedback, 40 Recommendations – The Vacaville Reporter

OIR Group’s audit of the Vacaville Police Department is complete, and the independent agency has given the department positive marks for its high morale, commitment to customer service, and ability to change how it responds to certain incidents.

The report, however, suggested there was room for improvement in the ministry’s internal review systems and transparency and issued 40 recommendations for the PD. Highlights of this report were presented to Vacaville City Council at its meeting on Tuesday.

In early 2021, amid high tensions between the public and law enforcement following the high-profile killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and other high-profile incidents, the city announced an audit of its department. from police.

At this time, the Vacaville Police Department was under heavy public scrutiny following incidents such as an officer filmed beating a dog, local protesters alleging unfair treatment by officers, and another officer filmed in beating an autistic teenager during an arrest, the latter of which occurred after the announcement of the audit.

In August 2021, the council approved a deal with OIR Group, a Playa del Rey-based firm led by former civil rights attorney Michael Gennaco, which has worked with local governments and law enforcement to resolve policing issues and make recommendations for reform. .

“Our work draws on the knowledge and experience we have gained,” Gennaco said. “We’ve seen what hasn’t worked in some cities and some police departments, but we’ve also seen things that have worked and we’ve used that experience to export what we’ve learned with cities that have done well. and have improved in the way they provide public safety.

The OIR’s work began in the fall of 2021 and consisted of in-person visits to the department, interviewing staff and other city employees, attending a community policing forum in June, and reviewing documents provided by the department.

Gennaco said the PD has been very accommodating.

“We only received cooperation from your police department, from your town’s family,” he said. “For that, we are grateful. The report would not be what it is if we had not granted this cooperation.

OIR Director Stephen Connolly said the department had a lot of positives, including levels of staff who “appeared to be exceptionally proud” to work in the department and committed to the city.

“As you may know, many members of the agency are Vacaville residents and have a strong personal stake in the community,” he said. “That is very much reflected in the approach taken by the agency and the energy that we have seen on many occasions.”

Connolly also said the department has demonstrated high morale that is also evolving, a commitment to customer service and attention to detail in enforcement strategy, and civic pride.

However, the report highlights two areas for growth: increased transparency and a holistic and rigorous approach to how it assesses responses to incidents such as those when an officer uses lethal force or when the result is a pursuit. with injuries.

“These are critical incidents, potentially high liability, but really need to be looked at, not just in terms of individual responsibility,” Gennaco said. “That’s really not the main focus. The focus should be on the question, ‘How can we learn from this incident so that we can be better prepared the next time a similar incident happens?'”

Gennaco said a multi-faceted review was needed to follow up on these incidents.

Likewise, he said the community wants more information, to the extent legally permitted, about the inner workings of the police department, including data on use of force, arrests and appeals. in the service.

“(That’s not to say there’s nothing, but there may be more to do in this area,” Gennaco said.

Gennaco also praised the department for some of the improvements it has implemented on its own, including training officers on how to respond to car chases or “proxy bias” calls where callers contact police about an incident strictly because of the race or ethnicity of the alleged perpetrator.

“The department has provided better guidance, better instruction, and reformed how officers should prosecute, providing different guidance on whether to prosecute,” he said. “All of these things, I think, speak to a ministry that is ready to change and reform.”

Gennaco also praised the department’s training, SWAT team, community response unit and community service programs. Highlighted challenges included staffing, recruiting, hiring, increased community engagement in various groups, and improving exam protocols.

Among the recommendations: having a proactive philosophy that recognizes the benefit of the doubt, informing and educating the public, and improving internal review of critical incidents, uses of force, and complaints and other allegations of misconduct.

Councilman Jason Roberts found the report to be fairly comprehensive but lacking in quantitative data. He also disagreed with a recommendation requiring officers to provide an initial statement about their actions after a shooting involving an officer before reviewing any video or other recordings. The purpose of the recommendation was that officers’ statements be “uncorrupted by outside influence by external records that do not reflect what the officer was actually observing”, according to the report.

As the field preparedness manager for the Rubicon team that responded to natural disasters, Roberts said it’s not uncommon to feel a rush of adrenaline after traumatic events and pure memory is not always reliable.

“Giving your body time to recover from the physiological panic is probably the best thing, not only for the officer, but also for relatives who may have witnessed it,” he said. “If you haven’t experienced anything before that level of hostile violence or that level of adrenaline, it can really affect what you see.”

Vice Mayor Roy Stockton, a sergeant with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, said he was initially critical when the OIR was chosen to perform the audit, but he respects the work done.

“You offer a lot of thought that might have some additional factual premises to reinforce,” he said.

Councilor Jeanette Wylie said it was a comprehensive report that gave the department the flexibility to decide which recommendations to implement and when.

“It’s up to our PD leadership to look at the recommendations, look at the practice and see what’s best for Vacaville,” she said.

The report has not yet been made public.

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