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Draft Recommendation: Alternative Use of Force Practices

Presentation to the Task Force

This revised draft recommendation was presented to the full Task Force on Monday, April 13, 2015.

Meeting Agenda and Details

Previous version of this draft recommendation


One of the first and very important recommendations made by the President's Task Force on 21 st Century Policing states that law enforcement culture should embrace a 'guardian' mindset to build public trust and legitimacy. The Supreme Court has established an objective reasonable test for determining whether a police officer, in using force, has violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable arrests. This test has been embedded in most law enforcement use of force policies, including the Sonoma County Sheriff's. If law enforcement is to carry out their responsibilities according to established policies, these policies must be reflective of community values and not lead to practices that result in disparate impacts on various segments of the community.

The use of deadly force by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in Sonoma County is of deep concern to many of the communities they serve. In several instances over the past decade, events where deadly force has been used have had a deep eroding effect on the trust between communities and law enforcement.

Updating and clearly defining use of force policies, along with better equipping officers to handle high-stress situations in a safe and non-lethal manner where deadly force may be an option, is one way to begin to rebuild trust in communities and to prevent further tragedies from occurring.     

Elements of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office Use of Force Policy include: Factors to determine reasonableness of force; non-deadly force applications; carotid restraint; deadly force applications; reporting use of physical force; notification to supervisors; medical attention for injuries sustained using force; and supervisor responsibility.

Brief Overview of Process

The Community Policing subcommittee received reports and presentations from the Sheriff's Office (SO) on their current use of force policies and procedures and a presentation from a San Francisco State professor on 'unconscious bias.' The President's Task Force on 21 st Century Policing provided recent and relevant information. The subcommittee also received information from the Salt Lake City, UT, Albuquerque, NM, Las Vegas, NV, Richmond CA, and Seattle, WA Police Departments regarding their use of force polices; and considered the findings and recommendations of the US Department of Justice's (DOJ) recent report on the Albuquerque, NM Police Departments. Additionally, the subcommittee members reviewed recent publications regarding de-escalation practices, bias-free training, and material received from the NACOLE 2014 conference. Subcommittee members also took into account the testimonies of families of victims involved in recent deadly use of force incidents in the County.


A. Recommend that local LEAs adopt a use of force policy that is aligned with the recent Albuquerque, NM and Seattle, WA models (see attached use of force policies).

The model provided has been developed in partnership with the DOJ and represents national best practices.

B. Recommend that LEAs work to investigate and implement increased training efforts that focus on improving de-escalation practices, advanced mediation/communication techniques, and other state-of-the-art communications training that work to resolve and reduce conflict when dealing with the public.

Recent events on a local and national level, have highlighted the need to look at methods of de-escalation and alternatives to use of force.

C. Recommend that LEA explore and administer training and policies that focus on unintentional bias, which goes hand-in-hand with de-escalation. Encourage local LEA relationship with DOJ to determine and implement best practices for local departments on bias-free policing and de-escalation.

DOJ and other police agencies around the country have found that focusing on training that looks at how unintentional bias affects police work and de-escalation techniques and practices help to build trust in communities.

D. Recommend the implementation of a program similar to San Francisco Police Departments (SFPD) model that offers restorative practices and strategies that includes conflict resolution and has been demonstrated to reduce the number of complaints from the public.

If the public has restorative resources available to them, they are more apt to understand the process and options they have in law enforcement encounters. They would be able to have a face-to-face meeting, similar to SFPD model, once a policy is in place to exercise this option.

E. Recommend that LEA take a proactive versus reactive response to solving community problems such as initiating community meetings, surveys, and outreach, in partnership with appropriate CBOs, up to and including a review for possible revisions of LEA policies and practices.

The DOJ has found some LEAs to have a “pattern and practice of taking immediate offensive action” rather than acting within the bounds of the Constitution, with many officers not displaying the “thick skin and patience” required for the job. It would be constructive for local LEAs to look at their policies and practices for revisions that would encourage another way of approaching law enforcement within communities. It’s vital after a controversial incident that the LEA respond proactively by initiating community meetings with the appropriate County department s and CBOs.

F. Recommend that County staff research, review, and implement cost-effective methods for improving the quality of deadly force training and alternate use of force; factors that may lead to proper or improper use of force are leadership, policy, training, and/or fear.

We want officers and citizens alike to be safe in the community. An in depth public review of factors affecting the use of force will help educate and promote public trust.

G. Recommend that the SO and other LEAs work closely with the County Administrator’s Office and community-based organizations to ensure effective partnering to establish community policing policies and practices. Additionally, the Community Policing model shall be structured to withstand budgetary fluctuations.

It is important to have LEA develop and maintain strategic community partnerships with CBOs who serve the community at large, especially residents in underrepresented communities, such as the A Portrait of Sonoma County priority areas.

H. Recommend an independent community-wide assessment of the attitudes, policy, preparedness, and response to law enforcement encounters, followed by an analysis to further recommend changes or added policies, training, or best practices.

The community, including specific neighborhoods, and the SO needs objective data regarding current practices, to determine if there are areas for improvement.

I. Recommend that LEAs review their Field Training Officer (FTO) program to ensure appropriate training (such as the value of relationships with all communities, best community policing practices, etc.) to new hires, FTO trainer selection (with a focus on officers with experience with Community Policing practices, community engagement and relations, etc.), as well as modern evaluation standards for new officers that are based on Community Policing principles.

The importance of infusing Community Policing principles at all levels of law enforcement is especially important, with new hires or those new to our community. Selecting FTOs that demonstrate successful level of community policing practice is important in starting new hires in the right direction.

J. Recommend that LEA implement supervisor training on managing deadly force encounters and investigations.

A review of how current critical incident investigations are conducted internally should be reviewed to determine if updates to the process are needed.

K. Recommend that LEA and CBO(s) partner to research and implement training that focuses on LEO and community fears, distrust, feelings of harassment, etc. to improve understanding between LEOs and the community, specifically, underrepresented communities.

Managing fears, educating about community, and law enforcement roles will minimize fear within the community and is a powerful approach to reducing deadly force encounters. This training works both ways, where LEOs and community members need to learn about the fears that affect community policing and keep partners from finding solutions.

L. Recommend that local LEAs move from “command and control” model to a community-based “police service”.

This community-based model builds trust with the community to find solutions.

M. Recommend that SO create a permanent Community Affairs Division with sworn and civilian staff to effectively develop, implement, and manage outreach, partnerships, neighborhood, and other community engagement programs.

The SO needs an effective and dedicated community relations division to develop and maintain the strongest community partnerships and relationships to build trust and to reduce hostility when controversial incidents occur.

Resources needed

  • Start-up training cost to train every sworn officer on new policy.
  • Partnership with DOJ and training funds for enhanced de-escalation, mediation, and communication training. Possibly, an internal position, such as an ASO that focuses on the specific training recommended by the task force, including partnering with CBOs, DOJ, and others to determine the best training recommended by the task force. Budget may include funds for CBO's work on mediation/training.
  • Partnership with DOJ and training funds for identification and administration of training focusing on unintentional bias and de-escalation practices.

Timeline/implementation recommendation

  • Within 60 days of Board approval, the LEA and related partners will engage in a plan to research, develop timelines, implement plan, manage program, and report feedback to Board on progress at periodic timeframes.
  • Use of Force Policy changes should be implemented within 90 days.
  • OIA will provide additional research and review of Use of Force policy to make further recommendations that will build trust and transparency within the community, while keeping LEOs safe.

Performance indicator(s)

  • Increased, effective, and safe use of de-escalation methods and techniques.
  • Increased public trust in law enforcement.

Additional considerations/alternatives explored

  • Double tap and reassess policy - reasonableness to institute such policy; requires further investigation by OIA or related body.
  • Shooting target at center mass versus legs or extremities - current training and reasons for or against aiming at a target, such as the upper legs, in controlling the threat posed by an apparent weapon, given certain time, distance and other factors. Requires review into feasibility of such policy.

Contact Information

Business Hours
Monday – Friday
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sonoma County Administration Building
575 Administration Drive
Room 104A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403