Opinion: Bad police work is costly to taxpayers

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

If you think of yourself as a fiscal conservative, you ought to be in favor of police reform.

A poorly-run police department with little or no oversight from the city manager and city council can cost taxpayers dearly, and that’s the story playing out in Redwood City.

On Dec. 10, 2018, a schoolteacher named Kyle Hart was in the midst of a serious mental health crisis and was cutting himself with a knife in his backyard on Lincoln Avenue in Redwood City. His wife called police and officers Roman Gomez and Leila Velez arrived.

Hart’s wife, Kristin, says that her husband posed no danger to the public or anyone but himself.

But within a minute, Gomez opened fire, hitting Kyle Hart three times. The teacher at Palo Alto’s Greene Middle School and father of two was pronounced dead on the scene by medics.

Kristin Hart contends that the two officers didn’t engage in any de-escalation efforts, as is the policy in other departments.

A report by the DA’s office, which cleared the officers of wrongdoing, said Gomez told Hart to drop the knife, twice. Instead, he raised his arm and pointed it at the police officers. Officer Velez fired a Taser at him, but it didn’t work. Gomez then fired his gun at Hart from about eight feet away, according to the DA.

A constructive approach

Kristin Hart could have retreated in bitterness after her husband’s death. She could have immediately filed a lawsuit and obtained a large settlement.

Instead, she began an effort to make reforms in the Redwood City Police Department so that officers wouldn’t kill another person suffering from a mental health crisis.

She took a constructive approach to a bad situation.

On May 20, 2019, for instance, she went to City Council to ask that police:

• give every officer a 40-hour crisis intervention class;

• clearly define de-escalation techniques in department policies;

• put bean bag guns in every patrol car;

• equip all officers with body-worn cameras.

The city agreed to the crisis intervention classes, and the city manager said that the body-cams were on the way (though Redwood City was one of the last departments in the county to get them, and we’re told they haven’t been completely rolled out).
Mediation fails

Hart then filed a claim with the city and agreed to go into mediation. When mediation didn’t work, she hired well-known civil rights attorney John Burris and sued the city.

If you’re a fiscal conservative, this is the part that will make you scream. Hart’s suit was completely avoidable. The city should have welcomed reforms like the ones she was proposing. Instead, she faced so much resistance, she felt she had no other choice than to sue, according to Burris.

And I’m guessing it will be a humdinger of a lawsuit. Remember, Burris is the attorney who represented Rodney King and got a $3.8 million settlement from the Los Angeles Police Department. And he was the attorney in the “Oakland Riders” case, which revealed that there was a gang of Oakland cops who were planting evidence on people. Burris won a $10.9 million settlement, and it led to federal oversight of the Oakland Police Department.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that at trial, Burris will make an issue of both the shooting and the city government’s resistance to reforms. It’s possible that council members will be forced onto the witness stand to explain why they didn’t insist that their police department follow commonly accepted best practices when it comes to dealing with people facing mental health crises.

Council, of course, will want to avoid the embarrassment of a trial and settle the case out of court with a large payment, hoping it goes away and the public forgets.

I’m not on the side of defunding police — you won’t keep good officers if you cut their pay.

But given all the money taxpayers spend on police, they should expect more than this. When a widow pushes for reform and gets so much resistance she feels she has to sue, you’ve got a problem.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email is price@padailypost.com.

1 Comment

  1. The mental health of the suspect is not the issue. The issue is whether or not they present an immediate deadly threat to the cop or others, which can only be prevented by deadly force. A guy advancing at you with a knife who can’t be stopped with a taser, is such a threat, regardless of any emotional crisis they may be experiencing. A cop is required to respond immediately, decisively and effectively to an often chaotic situation, and doesn’t have the luxury of Monday-morning quarterbacking.

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