An audit of the Sebastopol Police Department commissioned by the city has been received by city officials, with general positive reviews of the department and recommendations to modernize and align with best practices.
Jerry Threet, Sebastopol resident and founder of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), which oversees the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, presented the report to the city council at a special meeting June 17.
Threet, who began the audit last July, has worked with three different police chiefs as he reviewed records and interviewed SPD employees to compile the 115-page report. In the context of the audit, Threet was working as a private attorney contracted directly with the city.
The report probed the city’s largest and most expensive department, which has been faced its share of scandal and controversy in recent years.
In 2019, then-chief James Connor was removed from his position following a no-confidence vote by the police union. Current SPD Lieutenant Greg DeVore succeeded Connor as Acting Police Chief, before stepping down from that position in August. The city currently faces a civil lawsuit filed by former SPD officer Vanessa Murphy, who was terminated under Connor. Murphy, who was SPD’s only female police officer, has alleged sexual harassment and discrimination tied to her termination. The City of Sebastopol has denied the allegations.
Following DeVore, retired Bay Area Police Chief Donald Mort assumed the position on an interim basis before being replaced by current Chief Kevin Kilgore this spring. Threet praised both Mort and Kilgore, along with city staff in general, for their participation in the audit, and noted the Kilgore has begun to enact some of the recommendations therein, such as launching a more transparent website.
“I have great hope we’re in a period where we’re going to have stability with our new chief,” Threet said.
The report also cites increased public interest in policing across America following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers last May, as well as recent police killings locally such as the 2007 death of 17-year-old Jeremiah Chass outside of Sebastopol, the death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez in 2013 and that of David Ward near Sebastopol in 2019. The department has also faced criticism from community members over its involvement in assisting Santa Rosa police during Black Lives Matter protests last summer in which some protesters were met with use of force.
“It became very clear that our city, with our values, needed to respond to the crisis at hand,” Mayor Una Glass said.
Glass said Threet was chosen because his reputation as a law enforcement watchdog would give the public confidence in the results of the audit. “We needed a review of our police department that our constituents were confident in. That the results were something they could believe in,” she said.
The report makes special note of SPD’s commitment to community-oriented policing, although various recommendations were made on possible improvements.
Internally, Threet noted staffing as a major and cyclical issue. The department, which normally employs 14 sworn officers in addition to four reserve officers who volunteer their time, has faced long-term staff shortages, resulting in mandatory overtime and other difficulties which further complicate the recruitment and retention problem.
Threet also criticized the city’s lengthy disciplinary appeals process, which he said rewards resistance to authority and delays accountability. Threet recommended keeping records of any incidents related to officers to be examined during annual reviews. Records of use-of-force should also be kept fastidiously and the use of body cameras by officers should be enforced.
He also recommended more employee trainings, something only possible with a full staff, in areas such as implicit bias, de-escalation and being an “active bystander”—that is, intervening when a fellow officer is crossing the line.
Externally, Threet recommended engaging the community in adoption of department policies, as well as engaging directly with the community. He acknowledged that community engagement has been restricted by Covid-19, and that there is motivation in the department to walk beats and be visible in the community while on shift now that the state has reopened.
“Involving the community provide an opportunity for both officers and the public to learn the perspectives and the values of one another, and it can help foster better understanding between the officers and the community if you go through that process in adopting policies,” Threet said.
Threet praised the department’s engagement of the Latinx community, but also made recommendations to ensure bias-free policing is achieved.