City implements new policies to reduce SDPD use of force incidents, build ‘accountability’

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SAN DIEGO – San Diego city leaders announced Wednesday the implementation of two new policies geared towards de-escalating interactions between officers and citizens as well as requiring officer intervention in use-of-force incidents.

The new regulations will require officers — not merely encourage them — to pursue de-escalation of potentially violent situations by all means possible and to intervene if police personnel are engaging in excessive force, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said during an afternoon briefing at SDPD headquarters.

The rules, developed along with three local oversight bodies that held emergency meetings on the topic this month, will allow police to “reduce the use of force, further embrace the highest standards of accountability, increase public trust and protect against the unnecessary loss of life,” the mayor said.

The policy recently was endorsed by the San Diego Human Relations Commission, the Community Review Board on Police Practices and the Citizens Advisory Board on Police and Community Relations.

Faulconer said the policies will reduce use-of-force incidents, protect against loss of life and help officers “embrace the highest standards of accountability.” The policies comes in the midst of a national period of racial unrest after Minneapolis man George Floyd died in police custody on Memorial Day.

The policies require SDPD officers use techniques to resolve situations “with lower levels of force or with no force at all,” he said.

That includes creating a so-called “buffer zone” between officers and subjects, using specialized resources such as a psychiatric emergency response team and preventing escalation whenever possible. The department also is requiring officers to step in if another officer is using “unreasonable force” and it mandates the incident be reported to a supervisor, according to Faulconer.

“This is a policy that will help make sure what happened in Minneapolis does not happen here in San Diego,” he said.

Faulconer and SDPD Chief David Nisleit said the new policies will help establish a foundation of trust in the community, as with the department’s decision to ban the carotid restraint. Earlier this month, SDPD said its officers would immediately stop using the restraint, also known as a chokehold, a decision which triggered a similar response from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and others.

Nieleit called the new policies some of the “most robust in the nation.”

“When I talk about de-escalation policy, this is something we’ve been working on a while,” he said. “We’ve been listening — we’ve been listening a lot — and we hear what the community’s concerns are. Really, when I look at this new de-esclation policy and the new duty to intervene, it’s really to give clarity and clear direction not only to the officers, but also to the community of what the expectation is of the officers and what the community can expect from us.”

The agency long has practiced techniques intended to “defuse” volatile policing situations, Faulconer noted.

“But now the department has separate, expanded and stand-alone policies that don’t just suggest de-escalation,” he said. “They require it.”

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