California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 7

serious injury to one of our police officers, or any incident in which a citizen is seriously injured or killed during an officer-involved confrontation, it is the responsibility of the chief of police to communicate what occurred, what we are doing, and what is going to happen in regards to the investigative process. This approach has proven effective in two recent incidents, an officer-involved shooting and an alleged act of misconduct. Q. The District Attorney has praised your officers, saying their work contributed to the filing of charges against the two officers. What did Fullerton PD do right? Dan Hughes interacts with the public at a medal of valor ceremony about a year after Kelly Thomas’ death Restoring trust Fullerton PD’s acting chief discusses the aftermath of Kelly Thomas The death of a homeless schizophrenic man following a violent confrontation with Fullerton police put the police department and the city under unprecedented scrutiny, resulting in the ousting of three councilmen in a recall election and lingering questions about the department’s future. The death of Kelly Thomas last July has resulted in criminal charges being filed against three Fullerton Police officers and the departure of former Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers, who retired after taking a medical leave of absence. Acting Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes answered questions about the controversy, including how his agency responded in the wake of the videotaped confrontation between Thomas and six officers at a downtown transportation depot parking lot. Hughes was the patrol captain on the evening of July 5, 2011 when an officer stopped the shirtless Thomas in downtown Fullerton after responding to a call about possible car break-ins in the area. As the confrontation escalated, other officers joined 12 | Behind The Badge BTB-Magazine-Fall2012.indd 12-13 the struggle to subdue Thomas, holding him down, hitting him and deploying a Taser. Thomas, 37, slipped into a coma and later died. Q. You said the department “blew it” in its communications with the public. With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently? the video recording with four of the officers’ audio recordings and provided all of this evidence to the DA’s Office. In the preliminary hearing, almost all of the evidence and testimony came from members of the Fullerton Police Department. A. In Fullerton, we have been proactively dealing with the homeless issue for more than a decade, yet our homeless population continues to increase. We have partnered with non-profit organizations and assist with a homeless shelter in our city during the winter months. Recently, we have added a second police officer to work full time with the homeless and have also added an outreach clinician from the Orange County Mental Health Services to ride with our officers on a weekly basis to provide services to the mentally ill and homeless in our community. A. Although we notified the District Attorney’s Office about the incident the evening it occurred, the D.A. did not formally assume the investigation until July 7 because the incident did not initially meet their criteria. The Fullerton Police Department initiated the investigation, which included collecting evidence, conducting interviews, processing the scene, collecting the video of the incident, and collecting the recordings from the digital audio recorders our officers wear. It was also our police personnel that controlled the public-safety camera that evening that captured the incident on video. Our department also synced Since there was minimal A. There were many questions from the media and community members directly after the death of Kelly Thomas. Initially, our department was very slow in responding to inquiries and rather than a commandlevel officer communicating to our community, communication efforts were assigned to a sergeant who was the press information officer. Since there was minimal information coming from the police department, citizens formed their own viewpoints of what occurred. As we did not adequately respond to inaccuracies, the perceptions became the public’s reality. information coming from the We have made several procedural changes when it comes to communication from the police department. Presently, any incident that involves became the public’s reality. police department, citizens formed their own viewpoints of what occurred. As we did not adequately respond to inaccuracies, the perceptions Q. One issue that has received attention is how law enforcement deals with homeless people. What can law enforcement do better? 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