FAQs on Police Use of Force
No. Burlingame officers do not have impunity. Officers may be held criminally responsible for actions on or off-duty. Burlingame officers do, however, have qualified immunity, which protects officers from being individually sued for monetary damages unless their conduct violates someone’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity is established under federal and state law and is not something created by or under the control of individual cities.
Qualified immunity protects innocent officers from facing too many meritless claims and the expense of litigation. Without qualified immunity, more candidates would be deterred from public service, and existing officers would be deterred from engaging in lawful police business. Qualified immunity provides no protection for an officer violating a clearly established constitutional right.
Negotiated union contracts are usually not what makes oversight and accountability difficult. Various provisions in state law, such as the Peace Officers Bill of Rights, dictate how personnel records, privacy issues, interrogation tactics, and searches can be handled when public safety officers are facing investigation or discipline. A civilian oversight board would still have to abide by this state law.
Budget & Funding
As interpreted by the Burlingame Police Department (BPD), “defund” the police does not mean disband or dissolve the police department, but rather, divest and re-direct funding away from the police department’s budget to other community programs and social services. “Mutual aid” is a short-term assistance policy police departments use to provide assistance to allied agencies when a city has a major event that overwhelms their resources, such as the You Tube shooting in San Bruno, the Tanforan Mall shooting in San Bruno, and recent large protests in other cities.
The BPD is not aware of any neighboring cities considering defunding their police departments at this time. Even if this were the case, the BPD would not be expected to provide mutual aid to assist a “defunded” or “disbanded” police department without a negotiated contract in place.
The Burlingame Police Department (BPD) currently partners with social service groups such as LifeMoves, StarVista, and Telecare, with great success. While BPD supports the notion of giving more funds to social service groups, it does not believe Burlingame would be safer by diverting funds away from BPD at this time.
If the Burlingame Police Department’s (BPD) budget were increased by 10% today, it would add four new personnel to its staff, including a traffic officer, a School Resource Officer, a 911 dispatcher, and a Community Response Team officer.
As part of the BPD’s Operations Division, traffic officers are responsible for traffic enforcement and addressing traffic complaints from citizens and visitors. School Resource Officers act as a liaison to all Burlingame schools and handle crimes and other issues that may occur there. A 911 dispatcher would supplement the BPD’s Communications Bureau, which is part of the Administrative Services Division. 911 Dispatchers are the primary answering point for all 911 and non-emergency calls for police services in Burlingame. These dispatchers are on duty 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The 911 center currently handles over 40,000 calls for service annually. Community Response Team officers, or CRTs as they are often called, focus on quality of life issues and specific problems that sometimes get overlooked in the big picture of policing. In addition, CRTs perform homeless outreach and community outreach for events such as National Night Out, give station tours, and deliver presentations to neighborhood groups, youth groups, and block parties.
The Burlingame Police Department (BPD) is fully staffed. Even now, during COVID-19, the BPD has not had any mass illnesses or quarantines, nor has it had to hold officers in reserve in anticipation of skeleton crews caused by mass illnesses and the like.
The BPD is fully prepared to handle a violent outbreak in Burlingame and will call on mutual aid from neighboring jurisdictions as needed. Even if the size of the BPD were to double tomorrow, it would still need to call for mutual aid assistance to help with large “violent outbreaks.” No single police department in the Bay Area (including large agencies such as San Francisco or Oakland) can handle large incidents without mutual aid. In fact, during recent protests, the BPD sent mutual aid officers to assist San Francisco, Oakland, San Mateo, Redwood City, South San Francisco, and others.
95% percent of Burlingame officers could be in town and on-duty within hours. Of the Burlingame Police Department’s 40 officers, 36 live within 30 to 45 minutes of Burlingame. Of these 36 officers, 28 officers reside in San Mateo County, and eight reside in neighboring San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara Counties.
At current estimates, 40% of Burlingame Police Department (BPD) calls are criminal, and 60% are non-criminal. The BPD is very comfortable with the training and handling of the type of calls mentioned in this question. All BPD officers are trained in First Aid and CPR every two years. In addition, all officers receive Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). CIT trains law enforcement officers to become more adept at dealing with individuals in crisis, de-escalate potentially violent situations, and ensure the safety and diversion of individuals in crisis to a treatment center.
The BPD also utilizes the San Mateo County Mental Health Assessment and Referral Team (SMART). This team provides first responders with immediate in-field assistance from mental health professionals when needed. The BPD also works with homeless outreach groups such as LifeMoves, StarVista, and Telecare.
The Burlingame Police Department (BPD) does not issue CCWs, nor does BPD offer classes. CCW permits are handled by the Sheriff’s Office. Applicants must pass a background check and need to articulate a specific reason for needing a CCW. These are difficult to obtain since ‘fear of crime’ in general is not considered a valid reason.
Neighborhood Watch programs are very valuable programs, and the Burlingame Police Department (BPD) would encourage any neighborhood to start one. While BPD does not facilitate the creation of neighborhood watch groups, it will fully support any neighborhood that starts one by attending meetings and events, giving presentations, sharing crime statistics, etc. More information on how to start a program is available at nnw.org.
Burlingame citizens vote for City Council members. The City Council appoints the City Manager and she, in turn, appoints the Police Chief. San Mateo County citizens vote for the Sheriff and the District Attorney.
The Burlingame Police Department (BPD) can only speak for Burlingame. BPD believes the risk of attrition is low since current morale is surprisingly good at the BPD. For every negative email, phone call, or social media post received, the BPD receives dozens more that are positive. The BPD shares positive community feedback and comments with our officers at every opportunity. The BPD is very fortunate to have the support of the Burlingame community. It has not gone unnoticed and is truly appreciated. Of course, this could change if enough legislation passes that makes officers’ jobs more difficult, more dangerous, or exposes them to increased liability.
The Burlingame Police Department has access to as many training slots as it needs. However, it should be noted that there is only one anticipated retirement in the next three years. Of course, this can always change with unexpected retirements, injuries, officers moving out of the area, etc.
Use of Force & Other Policies
Gender is irrelevant in the Burlingame Police Department’s (BPD) training on the reasonable use of force and isn’t mentioned in the BPD’s Use of Force policy. Every officer, regardless of gender or size, will at times in their career encounter subjects that are bigger, stronger, more physically fit, or more experienced at some type of fighting skill. It is the BPD’s expectation that all officers will implement their training and the tools they have at their disposal to effectively deal with the subject, including for example, de-escalation, verbal commands, empty hand control, and less than lethal weapons such as a Taser, pepper spray, or baton.
There is no such thing as a “routine scenario” in policing. Every interaction with the public presents a unique set of circumstances. Burlingame Police Department officers are trained to “slow it down” to develop a complete picture of the circumstances and to decide on a plan of action after weighing all the facts and options.
In the scenario presented here, many factors need to be considered. For example, what is the reason for the stop? Is there a broken taillight? Is this a robbery suspect? Furthermore, what has been the level of communication thus far? Is the car completely quiet inside, which could suggest a medical emergency? Assuming the occupant has communicated, what is the issue? Should the officer call another officer or supervisor to the scene to assist with communication? The officer may need to run out the license plate and make contact with the registered owner to see who has the vehicle and what they believe the issue to be.
In the event of a report of the unreasonable use of force, an internal investigation will take place, and the proper discipline will be imposed. If the complaint involves death or great bodily injury, the District Attorney’s office will handle the investigation.
These reports are not public, but a summary is provided below:
2016 - 548 Arrests; 5 Use of Force Incidents
2017 - 569 Arrests; 8 Use of Force Incidents
2018 - 604 Arrests; 14 Use of Force Incidents
2019 - 627 Arrests; 8 Use of Force Incidents
2020*- 295 Arrests; 8 Use of Force Incidents
*Year-to-date as of July 23, 2020
QUESTION CONTINUED: I do not know the actual mechanics of how the Lexipol arrangement works; whether it is a one-time purchase of legal documents to cut and paste or as I suspect a subscription made with ongoing “support” and payments. Are you going to get someone from the ACLU or a civil rights attorney to provide a more rounded and perhaps more honest perspective? After all a private company selling policy that affects the public is as scary as private prisons and black box sentencing and probation AIs are.
The Burlingame Police Department (BPD) contracts with Lexipol to provide police policies. Lexipol is a California-based firm that provides constitutionally sound policies to thousands of law enforcement agencies across the nation based on the latest statutory and case law, progressive best practices, and current legal standards. Much of this is developed from a variety of sources, including members of the public, reform groups, and the ACLU. This is an invaluable service considering the BPD’s relatively small staff size. The BPD is provided with almost quarterly updates to help keep policies current and in compliance with ever-evolving legislation.
Agencies are able to customize Lexipol’s template guidelines and policies to meet the unique needs of their particular community. For example, with respect to the BPD’s Use of Force Policy, the BPD chose to ban carotid holds and added de-escalation wording to Lexipol’s template language. Furthermore, the BPD is not limited to Lexipol as its only source for policy. In fact, in the recent past, the BPD has also chosen to partner with the ACLU regarding its Taser policy and Immigration Enforcement policy.
The primary mission of the BPD’s and Lexipol’s policy guidance and training has always been the preservation of life. BPD policies are posted online for transparency.