Sheriff should overhaul use-of-force policies, study says

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Sheriff Elder: Has a lot to do to fix the ailing Sheriff's Department. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Elder: Has a lot to do to fix the ailing Sheriff's Department.
A new study of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is highly critical of nearly every facet of operations, noting a lack of supervisory training, "inadequate and/or nonexistent" use of information technology, and lack of communications among personnel. (Sheriff Bill Elder after taking office Dec. 31, 2014, introduced a newsletter called "The Informer.")

The report also said the office is top heavy. A lot of those top jobs were handed to Elder's friends and associates.

Of crucial importance, the study notes, is a sound and defensible use of force policy, which the department lacks. And while spokeswoman Jackie Kirby has said the department will migrate to a vendor's package of policies this fall that are automatically updated when laws change, the new study says that's not good enough.

The study was conducted by KRW Associates LLC, with former Colorado Springs Police Chief and ex-City Manager Lorne Kramer acting as project manager. Kramer is part owner of KRW.

Among the findings of KRW is an apparent dearth of formal guidance on use of force, which we've written about numerous times of late, including here and here.

The study doesn't report any statistics on citizen complaints against the Sheriff's Office for using excessive force, but it does note an increasing number of force incidents in the jail perpetrated by detentions deputies, although the big jumps are attributed to "Policy/Procedure modifications and enhanced supervisory awareness to incidents involving the use of force."

Here are the numbers from the last five years:
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Here's the section of the report's recommendations regarding what the Sheriff's Office needs to do to address its use-of-force policies:

Possible Amendments to EPSO Policy # 501, Use of Force

As evidenced by incidents nationwide, no issue is likely to impact the public’s relationship with law enforcement more than the use of force. It is often the subject of citizen complaints, lawsuits, and intense media coverage. The authority to use force, up to and including deadly force, is an awesome one which must be scrupulously controlled so that it is not abused. At the same time, law enforcement officers must have the ability to protect themselves and the public and to carry out their duties and responsibilities. Therefore, all law enforcement agencies must have well-written use of force policies which define and explain the appropriate use of force and guide officers in their decision to use force.

The EPSO is currently studying its core use of force policy. It is contemplating the use of a model policy and modifying it to meet the specific needs of the Office. It is recommended that this process be continued and expedited. The current use of force policy, while adequate, is not clearly written and does not conform to best practices.

It is further recommended that the EPSO study use of force policies of other sheriff’s departments and the provisions contained in U.S. Department of Justice consent decrees and settlement agreements in order to determine the content and wording of its use of force policy. The following amendments should be considered:

1. A statement recognizing the sanctity of life and the significance of using deadly force;
2. Statement of policy acknowledging that only that force which is “objectively reasonable” shall be used;
3. Recognition that a deputy’s actions immediately prior to the use of force may influence the need for or level of force;
4. Use of advisements, warnings and verbal persuasion, when possible, before resorting to force;
5. Use of de-escalation techniques to attempt to lessen the likelihood of the need to use force or to reduce the level of force;
6. Use of tactical options to attempt to reduce the need for force or the level of force such as disengagement, containment, use of cover/concealment and barriers, creating time and distance, waiting for “back-up”, or calling for specialized units or deputies with special training;
7. Duty to de-escalate immediately as resistance decreases and the threat subsides;
8. Policy with regard to warning shots;
9. Policy with regard to shooting at or from moving vehicles and tactically approaching vehicles;
10. Duty to immediately notify a supervisor after witnessing or becoming aware of the use of unnecessary or excessive force by another deputy;
11. Duty to intercede, when possible, to stop the use of unnecessary or excessive force by another deputy;
12. Policy with regard to the drawing and brandishing of a firearm;
13. Factors to consider in determining the reasonableness of force options;
14. Duty to prepare thorough, complete and truthful reports, devoid of conclusory, “boilerplate” language, detailing the need and purpose for using force, the threat or resistance faced, the justification for the use of force option employed, and any attempts to use or consideration of lesser force options, where feasible;
15. Duty of supervisors to investigate and evaluate use of force by subordinates;
16. Duty to provide medical assistance to persons against whom force was used;
17. Acknowledgement of constitutional requirements for the use of force in an institutional/correctional setting (Hudson v McMillan, 503 US 1, [1993]); and
18. Specific reference (by title and policy number) to all other policies related to the core use of force policy.
The above list is not intended to be exhaustive but merely illustrative of issues which should be considered.
It's hard to believe the Sheriff's Office policies are so in need of an overhaul. Elder took officer nearly eight months ago and one might hope he's addressing these issues. Three-termer Terry Maketa was essentially drummed out of office due to his philandering, which the Independent reported in 2010 while other media jumped on in May 2014, and other missteps for which he remains under criminal investigation.

But, apparently Elder hasn't gotten a firm grip on things just yet.

Read the entire report here:
See related PDF KRW_Report.pdf
Here's what the Sheriff's Office said about the report in a news release:
This multi-faceted assessment was undertaken to identify how the individual department members assess the agency and organizational environment. There was also a need to have a non-biased review of practices and policies in place at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office following numerous complaints and ongoing litigation.

The purpose for using KRW was to provide a trusted source for the development of recommendations that will help us establish measurable outcomes for future change and planning. The goal was to conduct an in-depth assessment of the organizational climate and environment in order to offer recommendations to enhance morale, organizational proficiency and leadership. The project team conducted a comprehensive review of current operational practices, policies and procedures. Over 200 employees, both sworn and civilian, were interviewed both individually and during 12 focus groups. Additionally, a sample of external customers were queried about their impressions of the quality of services and their relationship with the Office.

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