County passes package of law enforcement reforms

The Sheriff's Emergency Response Team, or SERT. Photo from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office website.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to approve a suite of reforms to local law enforcement practices, uses of force and emergency response.

The reform package requires county law enforcement officials and agencies like the sheriff’s office to comply with various new policies such as requiring officers to stop those who use excessive force, banning the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints and requiring officers to exhaust all other de-escalation tactics before using deadly force.

The county sheriff provides police patrols for Los Altos Hills, Cupertino, Saratoga and unincorporated areas of the county.

Supervisor Joe Simitian proposed the reform package in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis. Simitian said he developed the reforms in accordance with those outlined by the group Campaign Zero’s “Eight Can’t Wait” proposed policy changes to prevent killings by law enforcement.

“Our board is probably not going to be able to solve the challenges of institutional racism in a week or a month or a year or longer,” Simitian said.

“But what we can do, what we should do, what we have the opportunity to do and what I would argue we have the obligation to do is to step up and do something that is real and tangible and that will save lives,” he said.

The board also voted to require the county counsel, Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office to report on several additional policy reforms.

The group of county offices must report on the possibility of ending the hiring of law enforcement officials with a history of misconduct complaints, making a public list of all lethal and non-lethal weapons owned by the county, limiting the acquisition of military weapons and equipment, limiting the use of tear gas and rubber bullets for crowd control and restructuring the county’s emergency response policies to ensure the county employees who are best trained for a situation are able to handle it.

The group of county offices will give their report to the board Aug. 11.

Sheriff Laurie Smith said her office was in favor of the reforms, some of which county law enforcement has already enacted.

“(These reforms) will allow us to build trust with the community that I think law enforcement in general, really, has lost,” Smith said.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez said she will closely monitor the potential effect of changing which county employees respond to various cases such as homelessness calls and mental health issues that would normally be handled by law enforcement.

“That’s significant and, I think, very powerful and probably the area I’m going to keep my eye most on,” Chavez said. — By Bay City News