After years of calls for law enforcement officers to end a neck hold known as the carotid restraint, San Diego Police Department Chief David Nisleit ordered the practice to come to an immediate end on Monday.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer also said he fully supports a November ballot measure creating the Police Oversight Commission, an independent review group with subpoena power and investigative abilities, which could lead to more changes within the department acknowledging community voices.
Nisleit's policy change came after a week of nationwide protests demanding justice for George Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer pressed his knee into his neck for more than eight minutes.
Officers using a carotid restraint wrap their arms around a suspect's head forming a specific "V" with the officer's forearm and bicep squeezing on the carotid arteries
A carotid restraint was not used on Floyd. In fact, the Minneapolis Police Department confirmed the tactic used by the officer was not protocol for their officers.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department told NBC Tuesday it has no plans for banning the carotid restraint, saying "has been an effective, non-lethal law enforcement technique for decades." The department used the tactic 66 times last year out of 4,044 use of force incidents, according to Sheriff Bill Gore.
"I understand the community's distrust of law enforcement after the death of George Floyd. What we saw in Minneapolis was a completely unjustified use of force. However, to compare that to the carotid restraint is wrong. Our goal is to use the minimal amount of force to deescalate a situation. To take away a safe law enforcement technique from our deputies, especially when they are under assault, is wrong," Gore said.
Faulconer and Nisleit encouraged the public to participate in two emergency meetings this week dedicated to policy change discussion.
The first, hosted by the Citizens Advisory Board on Police and Community Relations (CAB), starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday and the second, hosted by the Community Review Board on Police Practices (CRB), starts at 6 p.m. Thursday. Both will be streamed on the city's YouTube page.
The CAB was created to consult and advise the mayor, police chief, and city council on police-community relations and crime prevention efforts, and to promote communication between police and residents. The board also works to Inform citizens of their rights and responsibilities when coming into contact with police.
“If there was ever a time CAB needs to hear community input and policy change recommendations, it is now," Norma Sandoval, CAB Board Chair, said.
Wednesday's meeting will focus on incident de-escalation policy.
The CRB meeting will address local protests and police response, as well as the boards recent recommendation for SDPD to adopt a de-escalation policy. The meeting agenda will be posted on the CRB website Wednesday along with information on how to engage in public comment.
Protesters, including those at demonstrations in La Mesa and San Diego, demanded that law enforcement agencies change the mindset and policies that appear to target and refrain from protecting people of color.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the demonstrations prompted Police Chief David Nisleit to call for changes in the department specifically with its use of the carotid restraint, which was used about 70 times last year.
"Our community has expressed repeated concerns and frustrations about its use, and I want to say that we hear you. We don’t want one technique to be a symbol of injustice," Faulconer said.
Officers using a carotid restraint wrap their arms around a suspect's head forming a specific "V" with the officer's forearm and bicep squeezing on the carotid arteries.
The neck restraint is meant to be more humane than a chokehold, which restricts the airways instead of the carotid arteries on the sides of the neck, but it has been criticized for being used more frequently on people of color.
Nisleit said that in the past he has expressed concern over eliminating a lower level of force but acknowledged it was time to listen to his community.
"One of my goals as chief of police is to stop fatal encounters between our police officers and the community, and right now we know the carotid restraint is something that makes people very angry," he said. "Looking at the big picture, it’s something I’m trying to do to calm everybody down to make sure we’re not having those types of encounters between law enforcement and the community."
Council Member Monica Montgomery praised the police force for their progress towards reform.
"As elected officials, we have a collective responsibility to stand up to the injustices that have plagued our communities of color," she said. "We do this by demanding accountability, transparency, and working together to confront systemic racism.”
San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher used SDPD's policy change to call on the Sheriff's Department to do the same.
Earlier in the day, black community leaders publicly called on San Diego and La Mesa officials, where demonstrations were held over the weekend, to change the practices that they say enticed violence instead of keeping peaceful protests calm.
Both the San Diego and La Mesa police departments hurled tear gas, rubber bullets and flashbangs at some demonstrators who had become unruly. Chief Nisleit said some protesters threw objects at officers, including glass and plastic water bottles, rocks, hatchets and hammers.
San Diego police said by the end of the night, 97 people had been arrested on charges from failure to disperse to burglary, assaulting officers and vandalism. About a quarter of the people arrested were not from the San Diego area, Nisleit said.
The police chief said the department would facilitate those who peacefully protest but anyone who turns to violence would not be tolerated.
"We will be out there with you making sure you have the right to do that and you can do that safely, but we will not tolerate lawlessness. We will not tolerate you looting, vandalizing, and insulting law enforcement," he said.
"I hear the community loud and clear, I understand that more change needs to be happening and we are here to listen and make changes, but we also want to be heard.”
Among the calls for action the group made to the police departments were: to utilize community review boards to begin a discussion that can lead to progress with communities of color and to end the use of the carotid restraint.
The San Diego Police Department has the Community Review Board On Police Practices (CRBPP) that advises on issues like the carotid restraint. Nisleit said that ending the use of the carotid restraint have been ongoing since his first week as police chief.
Montgomery acknowledged the efforts of local San Diego group, the Racial Justice Coalition, who created the "I Can't Breathe" campaign after Floyd's death, the Commission for Police Accountability and Transparency (C-PAT), and NAACP for their work to move police departments towards ending the carotid restraint.
In November San Diegans will vote on implementing a Police Oversight Commission, an independent group with subpoena power that will have the ability to investigate reports of police misconduct.
Mayor Faulconer said he supports the ballot measure, and Councilmember Montgomery said the commission will go a long way in restoring trust between the community and the police.