Saturday, June 25, 2016
[Santa Cruz County] Civil Grand Jury wants to know how Capitola police complaints are resolved
CAPITOLA >> The Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury called for more transparency from Capitola police about the number of complaints it receives and how those complaints are resolved.
A six-page report released Thursday generally praised Capitola police for the way it handles formal complaints because it follows state law and its own policies. However, the grand jury wrote that police should publish online an annual tally of those complaints and their outcomes.
Capitola Police Chief Rudy Escalante said Thursday that he is open to publishing online the number of complaints it receives and whether the complaint was sustained or denied.
“As long as it doesn’t violate any personnel rules, I think we could share that,” Escalante said.
Complaints can range from an officer’s handling of a crime or an arrest or any other matter. Complaint forms can be downloaded from the Capitola police website and submitted by email, mail or in person.
Capitola police has received zero to two formal complaints from residents annually from 2010 to 2015, according to the report. During the same period, there were more internal complaints from police about the way their fellow officers handled cases than there were complaints from residents about the way police handled cases.
There were four internal complaints in 2010, none in 2011 or 2012, one in 2013, two in 2014 and five in 2015, according to the report.
The grand jury concluded that internal complaints generally were “not as serious” as external complaints. Neither police leaders nor the grand jury would not describe the complaints in detail because they were personnel matters.
“Our investigation concluded the department is balancing the needs of its community for protection and service, consistently investigating citizen complaints thoroughly, effectively and expeditiously,” the grand jury wrote. “We believe that with minor improvements in its complaint procedures the department could be a role model for other county law enforcement agencies.”
The report was prompted in part by problems with internal police investigations in other parts of the nation.
In Capitola, there are 21 sworn officers including Chief Escalante, Capt. Tom Held, four sergeants, two detectives and 13 patrol officers. The agency received roughly 16,000 to 19,000 calls for service annually from 2010 to 2014, according to the report.
The grand jury found that many complaints were dropped by the person who complained after they were shown video footage of the incident in question and it appeared differently than the person remembered. Capitola police have cameras in patrol cars and they began wearing body cameras in 2015.
“Upon review of the case files we found that in each incident where it was determined that the officer had committed an infraction of department policies or state or local laws, the officer was disciplined appropriately,” according to the report.
Escalante said he and other leaders at Capitola police are “always looking for improvement.” He said the department also uses an independent auditor to review all of its use of force cases.
“I’ve always said our level of customer service has to be extremely high. We’re not perfect. We do make mistakes and this is why we have this process of outside review.”
The grand jury’s report was its 10th of 2015 and 2016. The reports have tackled the death of Krista DeLuca in jail, jail inspections, transparency problems in Soquel Union Elementary School District, problems with the County Mental Health Advisory Board, county retirement costs, civil asset forfeiture, the county Domestic Violence Commission, Felton Fire and school safety and emergency plans.
The reports and responses are online at SantaCruzCounty.us.
The Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury reviewed Capitola police’s complaint procedures in a new report.
Complaints: Capitola police conducts its complaint program consistently with its policies and within state law.
Follow-up: Capitola police informs the person who complained about the resolution of the complaint.
Transparency: The grand jury recommended that Capitola police post its complaint statistics online.
June 23, 2016
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Stephen Baxter