Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Separate and Unequal

Several years ago, Sheriff Bob Doyle, who heads the Riverside County Sheriff's Department sent out a press release announcing that there would be a demonstration of his department's latest foray into exploring less lethal options, which was the pepper ball launcher. This device allows round projectiles filled with capsaicin, an irritant, to be ejected through the air. After striking a target, they broke on impact and the capsaicin was released. People oohed and were awed at the demonstration, but were curious about its more practical purpose.

Pepperball Technologies, Inc. advertises its product here by stating the following.


PepperBall Technologies, Inc. seeks to bring less-lethal technology to the next level by offering extremely effective solutions which also lower the risk of fatality, blunt trauma or other serious injuries to affected parties. PepperBall Systems and ImpactPlus rounds rely upon PepperBall's proven Chem-netics technology to effectively gain suspect compliance. Affected individuals experience the combined affects of:

Psychological shock: the surprise of being "shot."

Powerful kinetic impact: for pain compliance with less-than-lethal results.

Potent super irritant: PAVA (capsaicin II) pepper powder causes incapacitating coughing and a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, throat and skin.
The compliance power of these combined affects means PepperBall products remain extremely effective while also lowering the level of kinetic impact relied upon by other earlier less-than-lethal weapons. PepperBall products thereby also lower the potential for serious injuries to suspects, and the risk of litigation and associated costs faced by agencies around the world.

The pepperball launcher is a controversial less lethal option, and the reasons why will be explored later. The focus here is on how the pepperball launcher and other less lethal options are often divvied out to law enforcement agencies based on how much money cities and counties are able and/or willing to spend on purchasing them. Consequently, whether or not a person lives or dies in an encounter with police officers can come down to whether or not their city or county purchased these less lethal options for their policing agency to use. Individuals who are mentally ill are among the most impacted in these situations, because in many cases the less lethal options are used on members of this growing population to "subdue" them without using lethal force.

Pepperball Technologies, Inc. advertises its product as being a life saver because it provides a "less lethal" alternative in situations where otherwise the law enforcement officer might use lethal force. If its claims are true, then shouldn't this "life saving" product be available to all law enforcement agencies who police a wide variety of cities and counties? Shouldn't it be available to be used in communities regardless of their economic wealth? There lies one of the problems.

What Pepperball Technologies, Inc. does not advertise is that the cost of their product is often prohibitive to law enforcement agencies particularly smaller sized ones, to purchase any or enough of them to be used in situations where if they aren't available, the officer will shoot an individual, often fatally. Given this reality, is it still true that this product can be advertised as being "less lethal"?

For many cities, apparently the cost of implementing this less lethal option and others is too high, even as Pepperball Technologies, Inc. claims that its products would save them huge litigated and associated costs in the long run. Lives that might be saved with this technology often come second to the dollars and cents associated with any civil litigation which might result when those lives are lost, at least in the minds of many city and county officials. Consequently, this issue must be addressed in part in a language these individuals understand, through addressing the larger fiscal cost for failure to implement these and other less lethal options.

Yet, even if they could spend less on litigation, it appears that these cities and counties still are unable or unwilling to purchase this equipment.

In his speech, Doyle mentioned that the burden of paying for the much ballyhooed pepperball launchers would lie on the cities within Riverside County which would be able and willing to pay for them. Doyle listed several of those cities including Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells, three of the county's most affluent. That's not the only thing the three cities have in common. Here are some statistics courtesy of Wikipedia.

Palm Desert

86.84% White

1.2% African-American

17.08% Latino

Median income per household: $42,316 with 9.2% below the poverty line

Rancho Mirage

92.69% White

0.89% African-American

9.44% Latino

Median income per household: $59,826 with 5.9% below the poverty line

Indian Wells

96.33% White

0.21% African-American

2.96% Latino

Median income per household: $93,986 with 3.4% below the poverty line This city has the highest proportion of millionaires than any other city in the United States.

So, if you live in a city that has entered into a contract with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, it helps to live in a city that is predominantly White and affluent. Otherwise, the less lethal options available are fewer. Another form of separate and unequal?

Some might say that if they are criminals, then they should just be shot with bullets. In fact, one unidentified individual here stated that he or she believed even taggers should be shot to death by police officers. However, many of the people in these situations are suffering from different mental illnesses and consequently, many of them are unaware of what is going on around them or what they are doing, which makes them less able in many cases of responding to a police officer's verbal commands the way officers are trained to deliver them. Many people argue that this is why it's more important to have less lethal options available to use.

In fact, Seattle Police Department used its mentally ill population as one of the primary reasons it had decided to purchase more less lethal devices to equip its officers. According to a report written in 2000, its goal was to equip at least half of its patrol forces with at least one less lethal option. However, even within their program, there were some of the same shortages that afflict other police agencies. The recommendation was for one officer per squad per shift to be equipped with an M26 taser and for supervisors to be trained and equipped with tasers. One officer would be equipped with a shotgun that would fire bean bag projectiles per squad per shift. Supervisors would be equipped with bean bag kits. That still leaves a lot of officers in Seattle without either, a situation that the city hoped to remedy, according to its community report.

Seattle Police Department: Less lethal program

Seattle: Community recommendations

Still other cities that state that they are hard strapped for cash struggle with this issue. Like Huntington Beach, California where a shooting of a young woman brought to light how what could have been collided with what happened instead.

Ashley MacDonald, 19, was shot and killed by two Huntington Beach Police Department officers after she welded a knife at them. Officers at the scene had requested that less lethal devices including a pepperball launcher be brought to the scene, and were in the process of setting one up when the shooting occurred.

In the case of MacDonald and others, the officers involved were trying to gain access to less lethal options but were unable to do so at all or in time because they either were not equipped with these options or so few of them were equipped that members of the majority who were not had to conduct a search mission to access this equipment. They claimed, the clock ran out.

In the wake of these deaths, cities still protest that it is an economic issue of a different form. Their budgets or those they allot for their law enforcement agencies simply can not afford the costs.

The Los Angeles Times wrote an article published on Sept. 4 which explored in detail the line drawn between cities that could afford to purchase less lethal options and those who could or would not. In one case involving the former, a life of a barricaded individual was spared. In the other, a woman was shot to death while officers were trying to locate and then preparing to utilize a less lethal device. Those who lived in the same neighborhood as the woman were outraged that she died while the man in the other Orange County city had lived. Through their rage, they emphasized the disparities in how the police agencies within their county handled people, most notably those who were mentally ill in their cities and how those decisions often came down to dollars and cents that were or were not spent on avoiding the deaths of individuals who were predominantly people of color and/or poor.


Police, however, say that the officers involved in both cities had an equal desire to preserve human life. To them, the death of MacDonald and the survival of Bahram Nezari laid bare the disparity among Orange County cities that have access to the expensive, high-tech weaponry that is designed to spare lives and those that do not.

Irvine police were able to bring their standoff with Nezari to a nonfatal conclusion because nearly every patrol car in the city is equipped with a 40-millimeter launcher that can release volleys of pepper spray, rubber projectiles and other "less than lethal" munitions.

In Huntington Beach, which is also in Orange County, only a few patrol cars are equipped with launchers, so officers often have to scramble to bring them to incidents where they encounter people they consider dangerous.

The Riverside Police Department has spent thousands of dollars on purchasing and training its officers on the use of a variety of less lethal options including projectiles, pepper spray and tasers. This came about in large part because of the stipulated judgment between the city and the state attorney general's office included a reform that required the department to explore alternative methods of deploying force. So, the city of Riverside allowed for the purchase of these less lethal devices, due to a provision in the agreement which stated that cost was not to be an object when it came to implementing the reforms. It was either do that or face the State Attorney General in court and explain why not.

According to records from 2003-2005, the department has equipped most of its squad cars with less lethal shotguns, but less than 50% of its field operations division carry tasers, which are considered an optional device. The supervisors are often not equipped with either, according to records from those same years. The department was asked in a CPRA to provide more recent statistics detailing the percentage of police officers currently equipped with tasers, but has yet to provide that information. When asked in May, the department did not respond. A department representative said that information along with other requested documents could not be provided until after the completion of its investigation into the Lee Deante Brown shooting. A second written request submitted July 24 was ignored and a third one is pending.

According to statistics provided in former AG consultant Joe Brann's final report, incidents involving the use of tasers had consistently increased during the past several years, while the use of less lethal shotguns has decreased.

Since 2001, the department has had three fatal shootings and at least one nonfatal shooting of an individual welding a knife. It is not clear how many incidents involving knives that took place where less lethal options were used.

However, most police agencies are not under either a consent decree or a stipulated judgment so it falls upon the city or the county that presides over them to make that choice to purchase less lethal technology. Some departments still have taken their own initiative.

Chief Gerald R. Whitman, of the Denver Police Department released a letter he wrote in 2004 after the department had been through a tumultuous year of changes after two fatal officer-involved shootings. It was written to the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division which at the time was considering conducting a civil investigation of the department's patterns and practices Sometimes just the idea of an outside agency putting your agency under a consent decree can be enough to motivate changes within it.

Letter to DOJ by Whitman


1) Use of Force Policy and Less options aptionsa)

In 2001, the Department formed two work groups to revise the current use of force policy, study what less lethal options were available, and recommend a policy on the appropriate use of such alternatives. The policies were produced and reviewed by the City Attorney's Office, District Attorney's Office, private criminal defense attorneys, City Risk Management, Denver Sheriff's Department, Public Safety Review Commission, Firearms Bureau, Training Academy, Chief's Office, Patrol Division, District Officers, Metro/Swat Officers, and Internal Affairs investigators.

b) In November 2002, training began on the new use of force policy and less lethal options. By March 2003 the entire Patrol Division had been trained and 100 Tasers (purchased with grant funds) were deployed. By July 2003 all operational personnel were trained and the policies were officially published in the Department Operations Manual.

c) In October 2003, 91 newer model X-26 Tasers (purchased with grant funds) were deployed, bringing the total number of Tasers to 191. d) This year, the Department deployed other less lethal options (also purchased with grant funds) including beanbag shotguns and pepper-ball air guns. These options will complement other tools such as expandable and fixed batons, OC Spray and the Orcutt Police Nunchaku (OPN).

In his letter, Whitman raised the issue of grant funding, which meant that outside financial resources are available in some cases to help cover the costs of purchasing less lethal options. The Riverside Police Department also utilized grant funding when carrying out many of its state-mandated reforms.

Still as previously stated, the listed costs of purchasing less lethal options do not factor in those caused by the shootings or other fatal uses of force that these devices may prevent. These costs can include the legal fees, legal settlements and juries' verdicts associated with litigation filed in wrongful death cases. Also, these costs do not factor in the stress retirements and the costs associated with hiring new law enforcement officers given that statistics show that about half of all police officers involved in fatal shootings leave the agency within five years of the shooting. They do not factor in the loss of life which can not be so easily broken down in to dollars and cents. Fiscally speaking, this seems to be another case of pay now, or pay much more later.

Money spent by the city of Irvine which has a 117 member police force:

$500 per less lethal shotgun and taser

$10 per projectile including pepperballs

$78,000 for training facility

Separate and Unequal: Less lethal options

Ashley MacDonald

When time ran out for teenaged girl with knife

Bahram "Ben" Nezari

Barricaded man hit with less lethal munitions


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