The state American Civil Liberties Union issued a scathing report on the Pasco Police Department, claiming officers lack critical training, services for Spanish speakers are inadequate and the community doesn’t have any meaningful input into police practices.
The 12-page report was made public at a news conference in Pasco on Wednesday — the one-year anniversary of three city police officers firing 17 shots at Antonio Zambrano-Montes at a busy intersection, killing him. He had been throwing rocks at police and passing cars.
The 2014 police killings of Brad Jensen and Matthew Stoddard also were criticized. All three men showed signs of behavior associated with mental distress or disorder, the report said, and the ACLU questions whether Pasco police are prepared to effectively interact with emotional or mentally ill people.
The report questions the department’s ability to investigate itself, asking why the three officers who shot Zambrano-Montes were allowed to delay questioning for seven weeks. Citizen complaints about police are allegedly given little credence.
The city responded quickly Wednesday, disagreeing vehemently with the ACLU’s assessment.
Pasco officials said the organization didn’t contact the city before issuing the report and failed to mention key improvements the police department has made since Zambrano-Montes’ death.
The department has beefed up training, made strides to improve community relations, revised some internal policies and hired more bilingual officers.
“I appreciate what the ACLU has done,” said Pasco police Chief Bob Metzger. “But I’m disappointed they didn’t talk to us before they (issued the report). There was a lack of interaction with us. There have been a lot of changes.”
I appreciate what the ACLU has done. But I’m disappointed they didn’t talk to us before they (issued the report). There was a lack of interaction with us. There has been a lot of changes.
Bob Metzger, Pasco police chief
The ACLU said it reviewed the department’s policies, procedures, training materials and other information before issuing the report.
Jennifer Shaw, ACLU deputy director, told reporters that the department wasn’t forthcoming with documents, and her organization was forced to base the report off what documents were provided.
The report offers recommendations to fix the perceived areas of weakness, including overhauling policies, improving relationships with mental health providers and hiring more Spanish-speaking officers.
The 76-officer department has weak policies regarding use of force and no guide to de-escalate crisis situations, the report said.
Shaw called the current policies “woefully outdated” and said there are systemic problems within the department.
“The policies do not provide guidance about de-escalation nor adequate details to guide officers on when and how to decrease the use of force,” the report said.
It is clear that the department’s policies are outdated and inadequate. The policies do not provide guidance about de-escalation nor adequate details to guide officers on when and how to decrease the use of force.
“Such guidelines are essential to avoid officers responding based on impulse, anger or adrenaline,” it said.
Metzger disputed Shaw’s claims that there are systemic problems within the department.
In the past year, the department has focused much of its training on cooling down incidents, bolstered its review criteria on use of force and trained its officers on bias-free policing and how to deal with those in crisis, the city said.
The city is awaiting a review from the Department of Justice before making any policy or procedural changes.
The department’s use of force policies drew particular scrutiny. They are based on a standard law enforcement practice called the use-of-force continuum, which outlines escalating actions that officers can take to resolve situations short of firing their weapons — from verbal commands to physical restraint, the report said.
Pasco’s policy does not guide officers on when to use different levels of force or use nonlethal weapons on suspects who are mentally ill or high on drugs, the report said.
The ACLU suggested the department should have a much more detailed policy that explains the levels of force, outlines when lethal force is permitted and discusses how to deal with suspects who are fleeing.
“Officers need much more guidance on how to use each tool so that they do not use force that is out of proportion to the situation,” the report said.
Officers need much more guidance on how to use each tool so that they do not use force that is out of proportion to the situation.
The organization took issue with the department’s lack of de-escalation training, going as far as to say the current policies “emphasize the escalation of force.”
The use-of-force continuum encourages officers not to back off from situations and the policy manual doesn’t provide direction on how to de-escalate, the report said.
Officers should be taught to allow suspects to submit to arrest and to only use force when other nonphysical techniques fail, the report said.
“(The policy) should state that de-escalation containment, surveillance, waiting out a subject, summoning reinforcements or calling in specialized units are often the appropriate response to a situation,” the report said.
One of the biggest issues raised is that the department apparently has no policy about when officers who are trained to deal with critical incidents should be used instead of force, the report said.
The ACLU, in its review of documents, had trouble tracking exactly how many officers are trained in that specialty.
The group wants more trained officers used in crisis situations and the department to adopt clear mental health policies.
“There is no discussion about how officers should proceed if officers know that the subject is behaving strangely or making statements indicating the person is in crisis,” the report said.
Metzger told the Herald that he strongly disagrees with the ACLU’s assessment that officers aren’t trained to deal with mentally ill people or those in crisis.
All officers have been instructed on how to deal with those in crisis, and 80 percent of the department will have official critical incident training by the end of the year, Metzger said.
Much of the training that officers now undergo includes a focus on how to defuse tense situations, Metzger said. But the ACLU apparently didn’t ask Metzger or his commanders for updates on training methods.
They have no idea how we train. They are doing this basically on a policy review. We could have told them that every time we train, de-escalation is emphasized.
Pasco police chief
“They have no idea how we train,” he said. “They are doing this basically on a policy review. We could have told them that every time we train, de-escalation is emphasized.”
The report suggested the department establish an internal review board to review officers’ use of force, create a new community advisory board and make it easier for citizens to submit reports.
The city has already added a feature to its website to make it easier for citizens to file complaints, Metzger said. There have also been changes to the way the department reviews use of force.
“Any incident where a person doesn’t comply, a report is issued and we review it,” Metzger said. “The format has changed.”