Citizen task force to advise Laguna Beach police on use of force

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Capt. Jeff Calvert, Police Chief Laura Farinella, and Officer Tanner Flagstad observe a protest at Main Beach on June 5. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified the police department that employed the former officer who is accused of murdering George Floyd. The Independent apologizes for this error.

Laguna Beach will recruit residents over the next two months to serve on a Task Force that could advise Laguna Beach police on how officers are hired, trained, and evaluated.

Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella proposed the idea of assembling the Ad Hoc Task Force after fielding questions from community members in the wake of nationwide protests over a former Minneapolis cop’s killing of George Floyd. The Task Force of five members will be appointed by the Laguna Beach City Council and serve in an advisory role to the councilmembers and police chief.

“I think when you look at other agencies across the nation that have citizen review boards or oversight committees, that’s not really something I think we need here in Laguna but I’m definitely open to having that dialogue with the community,” Farinella said.

The Task Force could examine hiring practices, use of force, pursuits, equipment, officer-involved shootings, citizen complaint procedure, according to a staff report. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow asked for community policing and de-escalation training to be added to the list.

“When you see the incidents that have occurred throughout the country, so much of it has to do with two parties in a confrontational situation and it escalates… and the person with a gun usually wins,” Dicterow said. “We don’t want that. We want people to keep the tone down, deescalate it, and have a peaceful resolution.”

Councilmember Peter Blake said City Manager John Pietig and Farinella were following the lead of police agencies across the country in asking how they might do things better.

Farinella suspended Laguna Beach officers’ use of the carotid hold and believes her department’s policy conforms with the 8 Can’t Wait recommendations proposed by Campaign Zero, a grassroots effort to reform policing in the United States.

For instance, all Laguna Beach officers have been trained in de-escalation techniques and this training is required every two years. The Department’s policy also requires officers to “make reasonable efforts” to warn someone that deadly force may be used. However, Farinella did not follow the recommendation to ban officers from shooting at moving vehicles.

The Task Force’s formation is complicated by the fact that Farinella has pushed her retirement to Nov. 27. In March, Laguna Beach’s first female police chief announced she would retire this summer after five years with the agency. The search for her replacement is still ongoing.

Officer Brian Griep, president of Laguna Beach Police Employees Association, asked councilmembers to be thoughtful when selecting the Task Force’s members and defining its scope of work.

“Our major concern is with the speed at which this is being put together,” Griep said. “Based on the gravity of the topic and public safety being of primary concern we think a more deliberate and timed approach is appropriate.”

The City Council directed Pietig and Farinella to collaborate with Griep or another police union representative on the next steps.

“We realize we’re not perfect,” Griep said. “There’s always room for improvement and we fully want to be involved in the process identifying those opportunities.”

Directions on how to apply for the Task Force will be released by the City Clerk’s Office within the next two weeks.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Leave it alone. Trust police officers. They can deal with de-escalating events, nor is it necessary for ad-hoc citizens to offer input on police apprehension of detainees. Dealing with suspect, a person questioned, is very subjective to the officer – its irrelevant what ad hoc committee thinks.

  2. First mistake: our police chief calling for an Advisory Committee but then denigrating the idea. Second mistake: doing nothing. Third mistake: trusting humans to act without oversight.
    Ever been mistreated/harassed/unduly arrested or detained by someone in blue? Ever see four police cars with flashing lights along side eight officers who are detaining and grilling a person of color who’s on a bike trying to get to work( while people speed their 2 ton SUVs around town, mow down pedestrian and other cyclists?). I have.
    How many tickets were issued so far this year for excessive auto/motorcycle noise, smoking in public, speeding down Coast Highway or residential streets versus our well-enforced parking tickets?
    I also encourage a thorough review for the recent death attributed to the Laguna Police pursuit of a vehicle down PCH as well.
    Believing that local police do not have implicit bias of any sort is a root cause of the problem!

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