Focusing on the reforms outlined in the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office released documents this week outlining its use of force policies. The effort comes amid a national conversation around police brutality.

Of the eight reforms, it appears that the Sheriff’s Office meets six of them after banning the use of chokeholds on June 8. The local policy does not prohibit shooting at moving vehicles and requires officers to give a verbal warning before shooting only “when feasible.”

Such language, present throughout the policies, is less clear than advocates for the eight reforms might expect. For example, deadly force is only acceptable, the Sheriff’s Office says, when the deputy “reasonably believes” there is an imminent threat to someone.

Sheriff Carlos Bolanos says all use of force incidents in the department are documented and investigated, and any incident of excessive use of force would be sent to the district attorney’s office for criminal and administrative investigation. If a deputy is shown to have violated the office policies, Bolanos said they will be disciplined, which could include retraining.

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Stephanie Josephson said that while training differs by position, generally deputies are required to complete 24 hours of California Peace Officer Standards and Training every two years. That training includes the Perishable Skills Program training, which focuses on communications, force options, emergency vehicle operations and defensive tactics. Josephson said corrections officers undergo a different Standards for Corrections Training program, which requires 24 hours each year. Additionally, every officer completes a 20-hour-per-year mandated county training.

The Sheriff’s Office also partners with Lexipol, a private company that Bolanos calls “the standard for law enforcement policy, at least in California.” Bolanos said the company, which provides policy manuals, training curricula and consulting services for police departments nationwide, customizes an approach for each local agency.

Bolanos said de-escalation and implicit bias are fundamental parts of officers’ biannual training. He said the Sheriff’s Office’s policies are continually being revised and disseminated, and when a particularly critical policy is changed, it comes with additional training.

“Our use-of-force policy talks about the sanctity of human life,” Bolanos said. “Our officers are always trying to employ de-escalation tactics whenever possible.” 

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