Riverside County supervisors seek to ‘de-escalate’ law enforcement encounters

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Riverside County Board of Supervisors Tuesday will consider a resolution calling for the formation of a unit to investigate all lethal force incidents involving sheriff’s deputies, as well as encouraging a team approach to handle mentally ill individuals during calls for service that could escalate into deadly confrontations.
Supervisors Karen Spiegel and Chuck Washington are jointly proposing the resolution, titled “Commitment to Evidence-Based Policing and Transparency by Allied Law Enforcement Agencies in Riverside County.”
“Agencies are actively committed to enacting …. changes which will enhance service to our communities, transparency and accountability to the public, ensure public confidence and allow law enforcement agencies to work cooperatively across jurisdictional boundaries,” according to the resolution posted to the Board of Supervisors’ policy agenda for Tuesday.
The supervisors noted that the Allied Riverside County Chiefs of Police and Sheriff — ARCCOPS — has been working since the start of the year to modify policies in an effort to boost public confidence in local enforcement tactics. Outrage over the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day has placed greater emphasis on quickening the pace of change and broadening it, according to Spiegel and Washington.
The supervisors’ resolution seeks cooperation from the sheriff, district attorney, the heads of a dozen municipal law enforcement agencies and three college police departments, as well as the California Highway Patrol, in forming a unit that would cross-utilize personnel to investigate deadly force encounters.
“The Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office have a need to create a combined force investigations team of eight investigators, four from each agency, and a supervisor from the Sheriff’s Department,” the resolution states. “The team will be responsible for the investigation of all deadly force and officer-involved shooting incidents throughout the county, regardless of the law enforcement agency involved.”
The thrust of the proposal is to remove an agency from primary investigative responsibility following a deadly force incident involving one of its personnel.
According to the resolution, ARCCOPS should also move toward joint training in the best methods for “de-escalation” of potential lethal encounters with suspects.
“This includes the use of specialized teams, such as SWAT and other special operations, where situations can be slowed down using time and distance to prevent violent confrontations while simultaneously preserving life and public safety,” the proposal states.
A final reform sought by the supervisors is deployment of mental health specialists with law enforcement officers to detain individuals who are known to have mental disorders or who are homeless.
It is unclear how or when the pairing would work, but according to the supervisors, several law enforcement agencies are already in the process of utilizing behavioral health experts for some field operations.
“This collaboration can work to de-escalate potentially volatile and violent situations,” according to the resolution. “The collaboration’s goal is to increase connections to resources and social service programs, provide crisis triage alternatives … engage homeless populations, minimize arrests, reduce repeat encounters with law enforcement and use of force encounters.”
The supervisors are hoping the Riverside Sheriffs Association and other collective bargaining units would take part in the policy refinement effort. However, even if approved, the resolution is not an exercise of authority by the board because the sheriff and district attorney are independently elected, and municipal law enforcement agencies are not under the county’s direction.