GOLETA, Calif. - Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown spent several hours speaking with the Goleta City Council Monday and said he doesn’t feel certain police tactics should be banned entirely.
It came just days after Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the immediate end of state police training on the carotid hold. The tactic involves putting pressure on the side of a person’s neck and ultimately blocking blood flow to the brain.
There have been calls across the nation and in cities throughout California for more oversight of law enforcement agencies in the wake of George Floyd’s death and other high-profile instances of police brutality.
On Monday, Sheriff Brown joined the Goleta City Council for a virtual meeting as council members considered a resolution condemning police brutality and declaring racism a public health emergency.
The community was able to submit comments ahead of the meeting, and one person called in to submit public comment during the meeting. 12 comments received ahead of time were also asked to be read into the record.
The council spent about three hours asking the sheriff about the tactics his agency uses and what his take was on the resolution.
Sheriff Brown said the city needs to be careful in condemning police brutality. He said in some recent cases where police used force, they involved people who were coming towards officers and threatening their safety. He did not give specific examples of which cases he was referring to.
“If you intermingle people in those cases with cases like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, I think it will cause people to look at that and say ‘hey wait a minute, those cases are not on the same level.’ They’re all tragic, they’re all cases we wish hadn’t occurred,” said Brown.
Brown said there are some situations where deputies have to resort to deadly force in order to protect an officer or someone else.
Councilman James Kyriaco asked about the department’s use of what is called a lateral vascular neck restraint, or LVNR, which police have described as a technique that applies pressure on the carotid artery to cut off blood to the brain in an effort to render a person unconscious. It was unclear how this was different from the carotid hold Governor Newsom criticized last week, however, Sheriff Brown was adamant it should not be classified as a chokehold or stranglehold.
Sheriff Brown said his concern with banning any tactics, including LVNR, is that it would take away a “tool from the toolbox” for law enforcement officers and limit the options a deputy or officer may have. He said they could end up using lethal force on someone rather than saving a life if they don’t have more options available to them.
He said the technique had been used 3 times in the last 5 years within the sheriff’s office.
The council members and sheriff also discussed Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” initiative, which lists eight use of force policy changes aimed at reducing the rate of police brutality.
“One of them is to abolish shooting at moving vehicles,” said Sheriff Brown. “Shooting at moving vehicles is rarely effective. It’s not a great technique if someone is driving at you with a vehicle. We teach and train our deputies to try to get out of the way if they have the option, but we have experienced not one, but two times where a vehicle was used as the weapon to commit mass murder. The latest case of that in Isla Vista. We had someone going on a rampage who was not only shooting people and killing and wounding people with a firearm, but was also using a motor vehicle as a weapon and running people over. That spree of murder and mayhem that person committed was brought to a halt by deputies who ran to the situation and engaged that person in a gun battle and wounded him while he was in a moving vehicle. Had they not engaged him and done what they did, there would very likely have been more murders that day.”
The sheriff said his office is constantly updating its use of force policy, but worried about a complete ban on certain force options.
“The world is not black and white. There’s a lot of grey areas, and we in law enforcement have to have the ability to recognize that maybe it’s mostly black or mostly white, but there are some grey circumstances. I don’t want a deputy to ever hesitate to disengage in a situation like that and to not take action because we have a policy that is prohibited,” said Sheriff Brown.
The sheriff also provided a breakdown of the deputies in charge of patrolling the Goleta area, noting there were 28 deputies in total. He said nine of those are fluent in Spanish and five are female deputies. “So we do have a diverse workforce. We do have a representative workforce that is in Goleta, and we will continue to try to keep things that way,” said Brown.
Brown said he worries there will be fewer people of color and women who want to join the law enforcement field due to everything happening right now. He said he wants minorities and women to be represented in his organization.
While much of the conversation focused on the sheriff and use of force, the city council did ultimately pass a resolution to condemn police brutality.
“We have our own opportunity today to stand against police brutality. To stand up against racism and to stand up against anti-blackness and white supremacy,” said councilman James Kyriaco.
Councilman Stuart Kasdin said the city council and members of the public should picture themselves in the shoes of the three officers who didn’t intervene in George Floyd’s death. “We have to make our voices heard when there is brutality in the area,” said Kasdin.
The council unanimously passed the original version of the resolution after hearing Sheriff Brown’s concerns about the names listed in the preamble of the resolution. The city council ended up removing several names of people who were shot and killed by police because those cases had not yet been adjudicated. The resolution still lists the names of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.
“A resolution in and of itself is primarily symbolic. What we’re talking about is an expression of our community’s values and what we think represents what our residents believe. But symbols are important, but has to be only just a first step. There’s so much more work that we need to do to implement the values that we’re communicating here and make sure that real change is affected by the actions we take and that we thoroughly look at what the policing is for our city and fully understand how the sheriff approaches that,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Kyle Richards.
“The whole world seems to be getting involved in this right now. When we heard about George Floyd, the emotions were so raw and we all felt so compelled to do something immediately. And that’s why mayor pro-tem came forward and asked for a resolution. We all talked about it last Tuesday night. We all wanted a resolution, but we felt we wanted it sooner than later,” said Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte.
The city council was also expected to consider sending a letter to Sheriff Brown regarding police brutality and racism on behalf of the city council. Council members unanimously agreed to work with city staff, the public safety committee and the sheriff’s office to discuss the contents of the letter and issues of racial disparities in law enforcement outcomes and use of force policies. They then want to return the issue to the city council with actionable items.
Sheriff Brown said he would commit to an ongoing dialogue to create policies that will create better outcomes for residents in Goleta. “Our door at the sheriff’s office is always open,” said Sheriff Brown.