Feds flag 61 ways Salinas police can improve

A federal report released Tuesday on the Salinas Police Department showed areas of needed improvement to build better relationships between officers and the community.

The initial report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services outlines 61 findings and 110 recommendations to help Salinas police improve its policies and practices.

Noble Wray, chief of the office’s Policing Practices and Accountability Initiative, said the COPS office’s assessment had four key findings.

The department doesn’t regularly train officers to deal with people who have mental health issues, needs “major overhaul” in internal investigations, lacks a stable relationship with the community and has deficient internal communications, Wray said.

Wray gave an overview of the report during a news conference Tuesday at the city’s Community Center with Brian Stretch, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter and police Chief Kelly McMillin.

Gunter said:

“We’re willing to step up and improve whatever we have to do to serve the community.”

McMillin had requested the federal review of the department last year in response to civil unrest after four officer-involved shootings within a nearly four-month span in 2014:

“We believe our community deserves to see (the report) so they understand our challenges and have a seat at table to rebuild the Police Department.”

The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office didn’t charge any of the officers who shot the suspects in the four incidents.

The report recommends the department build on transparency via the city’s Police/Community Advisory Committee, allow the community to contribute in training plans, provide annual de-escalation training and establish a use of force review committee, and have an external, independent investigation into all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, Wray said.

The COPS office will provide another assessment in six months with a status report on implementing the recommendations, then will issue its final report a year later, according to Wray.

Along the way, the COPS office will provide resources to help implement the recommendations in the next 18 months, Wray said.

McMillin said:

“Some of what is in this report is new. Some of it, frankly, we disagree with. But much of it we could have written ourselves.”

The report showed no signs of racial bias during the “rare instances” when police used force, but there needed to be improvements in reporting such incidents, according to McMillin.

Despite the department’s long struggle with understaffing issues and lack of resources that has prevented officers from interacting with the community, McMillin pointed out efforts that were not highlighted in the report.

There are a number of structured meetings to increase internal communications between commanders, supervisors and officers, the chief said.

The department was one of the first across the country to train its officers in legitimacy and procedural justice, which is the first pillar in a report by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, McMillin said.

The goal after the COPS office finishes its assessment is to make sure policing and community policing are one in the same, McMillin said.

An assessment team from the Institute for Intergovernmental Relations helped compile the assessment and will monitor reforms made within Salinas police, according to the report.

COPS director and former East Palo Alto police Chief Ronald Davis said in a statement:

“Through the implementation of the report recommendations, I am confident the Salinas Police Department will see great improvement to its agency. … The recommendations presented today benefit not only this department, but can serve as a guide for other police agencies across the country.”

The COPS office was formed in 2011 and is conducting a collaborative review in other cities including San Francisco, Calexico, Philadelphia, and Spokane, Washington.

The full initial assessment of Salinas police is available online at http://www.ric-zai-inc.com/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-W0799.