The Chief of Police in Oceanside agreed to update his department's use of force policy after community members pointed out a subtle but important word choice.
The Oceanside Police Department was one of the first law enforcement agencies in San Diego County to train its officers on "de-escalation of force” policy, but some community members say that policy just isn't enforceable.
OPD Chief Fred Armijo and his staff of captains engaged with around 150 participants, and even more on Zoom, during a forum at a local church.
Chief Armijo said he helped shape the department’s policy when he was a captain. He said he combined the department’s use of force policies and revised them to include the de-escalation of potentially violent encounters.
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The policy, albeit progressive by past department standards, lacked accountability in the opinion of most people at the meeting.
“Currently, we have a policy that says ‘should’ de-escalate when ‘should’ should say ‘shall,’” Dr. Kadri Webb of St. John Missionary Baptist Church argued.
The command uses the word “should” and not “shall” when defining officer behavior. The difference, most meeting participants said, is the difference between police policy and policy the department can enforce.
It didn’t take too much convincing to get Armijo to agree.
“Let me be as direct as you deserve. The answer is yes,” he said.
Armijo’s open mind left some forum participants with a hopeful feeling for the future. One woman said policy change could be a start in restoring her trust in the department.
“Working toward trust is a goal for me,” Latrina Jackson said. “It gave me a little bit of wiggle room there to give some trust back to the police officers.”
“Making that shift, I think, is an easy transition for us, but can be a huge leap into helping to build greater trust,” the chief said.
A spokesperson for San Diego Organizing Project, a co-organizer of Tuesday’s forum, told NBC 7 they helped convince the San Diego and La Mesa police departments to make the same change in their de-escalation policies.