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Santa Cruz County Police Chiefs on George Floyd’s Death

Local law enforcement leaders condemn violent force

PROTESTORS GATHERED IN SANTA CRUZ IN SUPPORT OF THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT ON THURSDAY, JUNE 4. PHOTO: MAT WEIR

Two weeks after the killing of George Floyd by an officer in the Minneapolis Police Department, all of Santa Cruz County’s local law enforcement chiefs have weighed in on the matter.

On May 25, officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck while Floyd pleaded with the police officers present for his life and repeatedly told the officers that he couldn’t breathe. The day after the incident, which was caught on video, Minneapolis Police fired all four officers involved. But as word of the incident spread, it prompted more outrage and protests across the country. All four officers have since been arrested.

Here in Santa Cruz County, this is what local law enforcement leaders have to say about the situation.

WATSONVILLE POLICE CHIEF DAVID HONDA

The first local law enforcement chief to speak out about Floyd’s death was Watsonville Police Chief David Honda, who released a video statement May 29.

In a video posted to his department’s Facebook page, Honda called the Minneapolis officers’ behavior “disgusting.”

Honda said that remaining silent would be the same as condoning their actions.

“Although this did not happen in our community, it is an ongoing problem for our profession and our nation,” he said.

Floyd’s death, Honda explained, has hurt the country, but the actions of the Minnesota cops, he said, was not indicative of the way law enforcement officials behave in Santa Cruz County. He added that local agencies train to a particularly high standard. Nonetheless, Honda said that the video served as a reminder of how much work everyone in law enforcement still has to do.

SANTA CRUZ POLICE CHIEF ANDY MILLS

After Honda, the next county chief to weigh in—later on May 29—was Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills, who posted a statement to the Santa Cruz Police Department Facebook page. Among local law enforcement officials, he has been a particularly vocal critic of the embattled Minneapolis cops, and has voiced support for protests—at least to the extent that they’ve remained peaceful. (Late on both Wednesday and Thursday nights, smaller groups of protesters split off and tagged the police station with graffiti—actions that both Mills and a lead Black Lives Matters organizer criticized.)

Mills was photographed kneeling next to Santa Cruz Mayor Justin Cummings at a Black Lives Matter protest downtown on May 30, and the image went viral. The next day, Mills wrote a blog post titled “The Murder of George Floyd.” And on Wednesday, June 3, Mills co-hosted a forum about policing and civil rights issues with Cummings.

During the event, Mills took some pointed questions from activists about SCPD’s mutual-aid policy and about his remarks three years ago regarding a “Black Lives Matter” pin. He also announced that he was banning the carotid restraint, or chokehold maneuver—the maneuver used in the killing of Eric Garner in New York City in 2014. State leaders, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, have since called for a full ban on the move, as well as for other reforms to use-of-force procedures.

CAPITOLA POLICE CHIEF TERRY MCMANUS

“The actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd, especially the officer arrested for third-degree murder, should not be tolerated by our society,” Capitola Police Chief Terry McManus wrote in a statement posted to the Capitola Police Facebook page May 30. (This was before Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison bumped the charges for Chauvin up to second-degree murder and added charges for the other three involved officers.)

McManus wrote that the involved officers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowable under the law. McManus added that he understood the frustration of protesters around the country.

“We in law enforcement should not accept that we have ‘bad apples,’ who commit unforgivable acts,” his statement said. “We should remove them from our ranks as they destroy the image of service that we protect with our lives. We are peace officers sworn to protect the public, who rely upon us to feel safe and to protect them from harm.”

He added, “Murder is a criminal act!”

SHERIFF JIM HART

Sheriff Jim Hart released a statement a few days later on Thursday, June 4.

In his statement, Hart said there was “no more important message” in this day and age than the fact that “black lives matter.”

“We are all witnessing the anger, pain, helplessness, and grief that follows police brutality, racism and systemic violence. There is no justification for the killing of George Floyd—it was a murder by the hands of a man in a uniform,” Hart wrote.

Hart said that the arrests of the officers and promises from law enforcement leaders are not enough. He said that it’s time for collective action to make sure that such injustices don’t continue to happen. He and the county’s police chiefs, he said, are committed to ensuring that those in uniform behave appropriately.

“For the last five years, we provided officer training in the areas of implicit bias, crisis intervention and de-escalation, and we believe these efforts have been effective in establishing local expectations for policing,” Hart explained. “Training is an important component of police work, but a shift in culture is needed for agencies to be viewed as something other than an occupying force. We closely review the use of force, monitor stop data, and seek community input when things go wrong. We will continue these and other efforts to improve our policing models.”

He called for reforms at both the state and federal levels. In California, Hart said the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) sets minimum standards for local agencies. But POST, he said, has historically been too slow to adopt the right practices and procedures necessary and also that it lacks the authority to sanction departments that fail to meet standards.

He added that it should be easier for agencies to fire bad officers.

SCOTTS VALLEY POLICE CHIEF STEVE WALPOLE

Later on Thursday, June 4, GT reached out to Scotts Valley Police Chief Steve Walpole by email to see if he had any thoughts on Floyd’s killing. Walpole responded by saying, “The incident that occurred in Minneapolis was disturbing to watch and tarnished the reputation of everyone who wears the badge.”

Walpole added that there was no defense for the officers’ behavior. He said he believed that any police chief in the country would have fired all four officers involved, just as the Minneapolis police chief did.

“The members of the community need to trust the actions of law enforcement officers for the system to work correctly,” he wrote. “They have damaged that trust and it will take all of us many years of hard work to get that trust back.

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