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The Contra Costa County District Attorney is responsible for all criminal prosecutions in Contra Costa County. When a police department makes an arrest based on probable cause, they complete the investigation and send it to the District Attorney for review. The District Attorney is not obligated to file charges against suspects in these cases. In fact, the District Attorney’s Office frequently decides not to file charges against suspects if, in their determination, it is in the interest of justice. The District Attorney does not report to any City Council in Contra Costa County. Instead, she is an elected official and is responsible to the people of Contra Costa County as a whole. You can find out more about the District Attorney’s Office here: https://www.contracosta.ca.gov/7284/District-Attorney.
When the El Cerrito Police Department develops probable cause that leads officers to believe that a particular person committed a particular crime, officers write up the facts of the case and send it to the District Attorney for review. We send all cases in which probable cause has led to the arrest of a person to the District Attorney. The Police Department does not pick and choose which cases to send over when probable cause exists. If the ECPD decided to pick which cases should be reviewed by the District Attorney, then the police would be acting in the role of the judicial system and deciding who should or should not be held accountable for their crime. If we chose who should face the judicial system, we would rightfully be opening ourselves up to claims of bias. The police should not take actions that usurp the role of the judiciary.
“Broken Windows” Policing is a philosophy often associated with the New York Police Department in the 1990’s. Proponents of the philosophy believe that visible signs of crime and lawlessness lead to an environment that further encourages crime and disorder. These proponents believe that focusing on enforcement of minor crimes such as public drinking, jaywalking, vandalism, and fare evasion, help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby reducing crime. For more information, you can read this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory.
The El Cerrito Police Department has not adopted a “Broken Windows” style policing philosophy. The ECPD believes that the health of our neighborhoods and our community is important. However, the ECPD also understands the effects that law enforcement intervention can have on a person’s life. While we do not focus on low level criminal incidents, we also do not completely ignore them. In the last two years, the police department has dramatically de-emphasized responses to low level offenses, reducing arrests by almost 50%.
El Cerrito is a small city with great opportunities for credible accountability and oversight. The City Council of El Cerrito are elected representatives of residents tasked with providing leadership and policy direction for the City. Under the policies established by the City Council, the City Manager is responsible for the professional management of all operations of the City. The City Manager is the City’s chief executive, hired by and directly responsible to the City Council. The El Cerrito City Manager has oversight over all City departments responsible for implementing programs and delivering public services. In particular, the City Manager is responsible for hiring, supervising, and firing the Chief of Police.
The City Manager is developing new practices to ensure that Police Department complaints, internal investigations, and uses of force are properly and thoroughly reviewed by her office. Each month, the City Manager will review new complaints and/or uses of force that have occurred as well as the dispositions of investigations. In her role as a direct report to the City Council, she may review significant incidents with the City Council for direction.
The El Cerrito Police Department will begin annually reporting statistics and data related to the use of force in the summer of 2020 and thereafter in the department’s annual report.
Although some residents have requested that all internal investigations and complaints be made public, state law prohibits this practice. Currently, state lawmakers are considering legislation that may change the confidentiality of some police investigations. State Senator Skinner has sponsored SB 776 that seeks to make all uses of force and complaints of dishonesty and sexual misconduct public records, regardless of whether the allegations were sustained.
The ECPD posts our complaint form online and offers several ways for community members to make complaints about police officer behavior. Community members can complain in person at the El Cerrito Police Department, they can contact the department by phone at either (510) 215-4400 (during business hours) or by calling dispatch after hours at (510) 233-1214, or they can complete a complaint form and either mail it or drop it off at the Police Department or City Hall. Some residents choose to make their complaint by email. For those interested in using email, they can send their complaints directly to the Chief of Police at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit our Professional Standard Page.
The definition of militarized equipment can vary from person to person. All of the equipment used by the El Cerrito Police Department is designed for law enforcement use. Some pieces of equipment may also be used by branches of the United States Military. Here are some examples of police equipment used by the ECPD that are commonly available on the civil market in the United States:
The following is a list of items sometimes used by ECPD, that are restricted to law enforcement in California:
The El Cerrito Police Department does not have any armored vehicles and has not received any equipment from the public safety procurement program, formerly the 1033 program. (https://www.caloes.ca.gov/cal-oes-divisions/law-enforcement/public-safety-procurement-program/leso-program)
Currently, the El Cerrito Police Department responds to a number of incidents that do not necessarily constitute a crime. For example, the ECPD may send officers to calls of suicidal people, welfare checks on people laying down on the sidewalk, homelessness issues, neighbor disputes, domestic arguments, and parenting help, to name a few. The officers and supervisors assigned to these calls carefully review the nature of the incident and may decide that a law enforcement response is not required. The ECPD prioritizes calls for help in which a person may be in physical danger or in medical distress.
Because responses to non-criminal matters are infrequent, staffing a 24-hour response at the City level would not be cost effective. Instead, a regional approach would make more financial sense.
El Cerrito is working with other cities to partner with Contra Costa County or a non-governmental organization to create a more robust response to non-criminal incidents. Ideally, a team of EMTs and social workers will be available to the region around the clock to respond to low risk calls involving mental health, homelessness, addiction issues and many more. The City of El Cerrito is in the early stages of developing a response concept.
El Cerrito Police regularly participates in training on the topics of De-escalation, Racial Profiling, Communication, Crisis Intervention, and Implicit Bias. All recruits complete a basic police academy, certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
The El Cerrito Police have previously released a document regarding how El Cerrito Police practices compare to the recommendations by Campaign Zero and their 8cantwait campaign. You can find the ECPD policy positions here: https://www.el-cerrito.org/DocumentCenter/View/14317/ECPD-Letter-regarding-8cantwait-
The ECPD is currently reviewing policing positions relating to requiring the use of de-escalation techniques, prohibiting officers from shooting at moving vehicles, and tracking the display of a firearm as a use of force.
When the ECPD seizes assets pursuant to a criminal investigation, the Department coordinates the seizure with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office. Asset seizure cases are not automatic and involve a judicial process. The use of funds seized in these cases is restricted by California Law. The Legislative Analyst’s Office created a very helpful summary of how asset forfeiture works in California. You can find the LAO’s report here: https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/4128
All internal investigations in El Cerrito comply with section 3300 of the California Government Code. This means that officers are afforded some procedural guarantees when they are the subject of an investigation. The section outlines employer requirements, such as allowing an officer to have a representative present, telling an officer the nature of an internal investigation, and restricting how many people can ask questions during an interrogation. These protections are required by law and are also extended to all ECPD employees because they provide reasonable guidelines for how an investigation should be conducted.
The labor contract for law enforcement in El Cerrito does not require binding arbitration. This means that employees can not require the use of an arbitrator if they disagree with the outcome of an investigation or recommended discipline.
Some have asked why officers continue to be paid while they are under investigation. This is because the state requires that agencies afford employees “due process” before terminating their employment. An investigation is considered one of these “due process” systems.
Some have called for the Police Department budget to be reduced by an unspecified amount. As part of the City’s strategy to reduce expenditures, the ECPD has faced an equivalent reduction in funding compared to other City departments. The City Council has not yet completed their review of the City budget for the current fiscal year and additional cuts are likely, across the City.
The City is also evaluating what other programs might provide additional services to community members in El Cerrito. As part of the process, the City will work to identify the costs associated with these programs and where funding may come from.
Campaign Zero, the publishers of the California Police Scorecard, selected which agencies they wanted represented in their study. They did not select El Cerrito.
In 2020, the ECPD began using a drone to support field operations, after a period of public input in 2019. The police department owns a DJI Mavic Pro, a civil drone equipped with a camera. The drone allows officers deploy a camera in the sky to take crime scene photographs and assist with search operations. Since the program began, the Police Department posts a log online of how the drone was used, for the public to review. You can find out more information about drone police and aerial operations at: http://el-cerrito.org/1400/Aerial-Operations.