SALINAS, Calif. - UPDATE 9/13/2016 6:30 PM:
On Tuesday, Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin updated the City Council on the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance. The initiative is in response to the Department of Justice looking at the Salinas Police Department's policies after four deadly officer-involved shootings in 2014.
In March, the DOJ'S Office of Community Oriented Policing Services identified 61 findings, or areas of improvement, and and made 110 recommendations or suggestions for correcting deficits. According to the council agenda, the findings range from minor issues such as volunteer programs to critical ones such as the use of force. The key areas of concern include mental health training for officers, use of force de-escalation policies and training, and improving community relations.
Six months later, McMillin gave the first update on the progress.
"We have made a few big changes, a number of small changes," McMillin said.
McMillin said the biggest change people would notice is in who would be investigating officer-involved shootings. It's now up to the Monterey County District Attorney's Office and not the Salinas Police Department. Since the implementation, there has been one officer-involved shooting. In July, two teens who had been charged with robbing a Salinas business got into a shootout with police.
Other changes involve training, but because the Police Department is short-staffed, it's a challenge.
"They're recommending what turns out to be many days per year of training for the entire Police Department," McMillin said. "And some of those recommendations occur annually. So when we add those training recommendations on top of the state-mandated training that we have to do, the training the city mandates that we have to do, it turns out you have police officers that need to be out doing their jobs in-house doing training many days per year."
McMillin said he's leaving certain recommendations to his successor since he's retiring at the end of the month. He said he didn't want to institute new policy that the new chief may disagree with.
"Two of the big areas of recommendation that I'm leaving for the next chief have to do with modifications for our use of force policy and community engagement policy," McMillin said. "Use of force policy is very complex, very tricky and it's based on a lot of case law. So we have to be really cautious when we tamper with that."
In the meantime, McMillin has sent four officers to Seattle, where they are observing that Police Department's de-escalation training and will see if there are any changes they can bring back to Salinas.
"So when we talk about de-escalation, what we're talking about are potential force use situations, and how to try to dial those back to either decrease or eliminate the use of force with some of our encounters," McMillin said.
While some City Council members say they wish more could have been accomplished over the past six months, Councilman Steve McShane admits major changes take time.
"In matters like this, it's got to be calculated. It's got to be thoughtful and I think this process, in addition to the inclusion of these conferences and visits to other departments, will result in a better department that's got a more robust ability to handle some of the challenges that we've experienced," McShane said.
The next update on the Collaborative Reform Initiative will be one year from now, under a different chief.
The recommendations are not requirements, but rather suggestions. McMillin said if they choose not to implement a recommendation, they are prepared to explain they made that choice.
During Tuesday night's Salinas City Council meeting, Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin will update council members on the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance.
These recommendations came about earlier this year, after McMillin asked the Department of Justice's office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) for assistance in the aftermath of four deadly officer-involved shooting involving Hispanic men. The COPS report included 61 findings and 110 recommendations to implement best practices.
Chief McMillin said for the most part, the average person see any changes.
"A lot of what they recommend is increased training, so that's not going to be apparent to a citizen. A lot of what they recommend is staffing related. A lot of, particularly the community relations and resource allocation, has a lot to do with our ability to get out and spend quality time with the community. And until we get new police officers, that will continue to be a challenge for us," McMillin said.
KION's Mariana Hicks spoke with McMillin about some of the notable changes his department has made, and what he doesn't want to pursue during his remaining weeks in office.