The Sonoma County Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing have just issued final reports that outline an array of recommendations for improved policing.
Paths to improvement noted by both task force reports outline overarching internal philosophical and cultural changes in policing; changes in law and policy; professional independent oversight; community engagement; improved training, cultural competency; and diverse inclusion in hiring practices. If adopted, funded and implemented, the recommendations could reduce police violence, improve police interactions with the community and hold police and the community accountable for community safety.
However, reports without sustained action do not constitute an end to police violence. We must remember that these task forces were created due to public pressure on the system to end unjust killings at the hands of cops, especially cases where young people of color are victims of police homicide, such as 13-year-old Andy Lopez, killed by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus.
California law and local sheriff’s policy currently find nothing out of the ordinary in firing seven bullets into an unarmed child in broad daylight. Further, since Deputy Gelhaus killed Andy on Oct. 22, 2013, local law enforcement has been involved in 11 more deaths in our streets and jail cells. Yet local police and state laws still find these all to be just.
The public must continue to apply pressure to elected officials and law enforcement leaders to see that policies are altered and clarified to remove broad officer discretion in use of force; that independent oversight is funded; and that the necessity for a changed culture in law enforcement is realized. Systematized race, class and gender divisions must be addressed publicly and with express inclusion of those most negatively affected by the system.
Local elected officials must use their influence to change California laws that shield officers from extra-judicial review of almost any kind. The real work of changing law enforcement will require sustained commitment to change. It is time to get to work.
Robert Edmonds is a Sonoma County resident and grass-roots police accountability activist, and vice chair of the Sonoma County Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force.
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