Most, but not all of the policing policies recommended by the viral #8CantWait campaign will enhance safety in San Mateo, said the city’s police chief at a town hall meeting Wednesday.

Also during the meeting, a NAACP official expressed concerns about calls to defund police, though the organization has not yet officially taken a position on the matter.

The Rev. Lorrie Owens, president of the San Mateo branch of the NAACP, said police budgets should be carefully analyzed and perhaps modified, but argued sweeping cuts would be “counterproductive.”

“One of the things I advocate for is more and better training, more outreach for reaching other populations of color in the community to recruit them. So if you’re cutting the police budget to the degree that they’re not able to do that then it’ll become counterproductive to some of the things a lot of us are talking about,” she said.

“It’s a catchy phrase right now and a lot of people are angry and a lot of people are feeling this is the solution and it’s really kind of a one-dimensional approach in my opinion to a very complex problem,” Owens continued. “There could be situations where some money should be reallocated, but I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all for every single police department across the country.”

During the meeting, San Mateo Police Chief Ed Barberini said five of the eight policy proposals included in the #8CantWait campaign are already in place in San Mateo, and argued the other three could put officer and civilian lives in danger.

Promoted by Campaign Zero, an activist-led police reform effort that began in 2015, #8CantWait is calling for police departments throughout the country to require the following: comprehensive reporting on uses of force, de-escalation, officers to intervene if another officer is misbehaving, establish a force continuum that restricts the most severe types of force to the most extreme situations and also a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds.

Barberini said the San Mateo Police Department is already “strong” on the above five proposed reforms, which will be even further articulated in a soon-to-be-completed update of the department’s use of force policy.

But Barberini added there are “challenges” with the remaining three policies proposed by the campaign. Those include banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring officers to give a verbal warning before shooting and also requiring them to exhaust all alternatives before shooting.

As for the former proposal, Barberini noted the department’s current policy does require a warning before shooting when feasible, but said doing so is not always feasible.

“There are circumstances that offices find themselves in the field that don’t allow for this type of compliance in a safe manner,” he said. “For example, if an officer is ambushed or encounters somebody shooting at someone else, for that officer to be required to identify themselves as a police officer and issue a warning before using that force may cost valuable seconds, valuable time that could have devastating results.

“That’s an area we need to work through, take a look at and manage,” he added.

Barberini said the proposal to exhaust all alternatives before shooting is “an interpretation question,” adding “we don’t want to create a standard that our officers can’t adhere to in a safe manner.” 

“If an officer is facing a threat that could cause them or someone in the public great bodily injury or even death — to require an officer to use force that would be inconsistent in protecting someone else or themselves could be challenging and could have devastating results,” he said.

Barberini also said shooting at vehicles is already “highly discouraged” in the department and described it as a “drastic measure,” but cited certain circumstances in which doing so may be necessary.

“The problem is an absolute ban on that limits the ability of an officer to protect the public and themselves,” he said. “We’ve seen in other parts of the country and world where vehicles are used as weapons, whether as some type of terrorist attack driving into a crowd or driving into an individual person. The challenge we have in dealing with that is having officers to stand by and allowing that to happen without taking any type of action. How do we work through that?”

Also during the meeting, San Mateo police Officer Alison Gilmore, an African American woman, spoke about what she described as a “historical chasm between the African American community and law enforcement.”

“It must be acknowledged. It’s there,” she said. “However, because of my training and experience in education I’ve never been torn about my ability to be an African American woman being a law enforcement officer. There are particular challenges, but all officers face personal challenges.”

Gilmore went on to describe experiences at recent protests in the county.

“I couldn’t have been happier with the way the protesters conducted themselves,” she said, but added “there were a few comments that were targeted towards me specifically regarding my ethnicity. I heard comments asking me how can I as a person of color do this job.

“But I realized they were attacking my Caucasian fellow officers, my Polynesian fellow officers, my Hispanic fellow officers, my Asian fellow officers,” she continued. “It’s an attack on the uniform, not an attack of Alison Gilmore, an African American woman living in the Bay Area. It wasn’t about that. I have the ability to separate that. It’s always going to be a challenge, but we all have individual challenges.”

Gilmore added she “couldn’t be more pleased” with the diversity of the department.

“We have a very diverse locker room,” she said. “This department is well over one-third a minority department. … We’re one together. We’re an extremely diverse group and proud of it.”

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