In order to help prevent the excessive use of force by police, the Palo Alto City Council unanimously voted on Aug. 24 to adopt a series of policies based on recommendations for the 8Can’tWait campaign.
The project led by Campaign Zero calls for all U.S. cities to pass eight laws to prevent excessive use of force by police departments.
The campaign has gained significant traction since the choking death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc.
According to 8cantwait.org, over 270 cities have adopted some or all of these laws since June.
The eight proposed laws require banning chokeholds, de-escalation tactics, warnings before shooting and say a police report should be filed every time an officer uses or threatens to use force. A 2016 study by the campaign says that these laws could reduce police violence by up to 72%.
Palo Alto Police Departmentis already compliant with three of the policies: requiring a warning before shooting, duty to intervene and report in cases of officer misconduct and requiring comprehensive reporting anytime an officer uses force or threatens to use force, according to a report by the Human Relations Commision. The remaining five were adopted during the Aug. 24 City Council meeting. Rev. Kaloma Smith, a proponent of the 8Can’tWait campaign, says these reforms are necessary to end police brutality.
“8Can’tWait is not the ceiling of what changes should be. It is just the beginning,” Smith said. “It is absolutely clear that we live in a time where we need to reimagine policing.”
Mayor Adrian Fine agrees, and said Palo Alto needs even greater measures to mitigate excessive police use of force.
“In society nowadays, we’re asking police to do anything and everything,” Fine said. “There’s a future where we have more community service workers, like mental health professionals and social workers (in lieu of police).”
At the Aug. 24 City Council meeting, Assistant Police Chief Andrew Binder said while PAPD supports some of these reforms, they do need the authority to use force.
“Officers don’t always have the luxury to predict how we’re going to take someone into custody,” Binder said. “So, officers must have the ability, allowable by law, to use reasonable force to adapt to the dynamics of a force encounter.”
Human Relations Commision Vice Chair Valerie Stinger agreed with Binder that police need freedom to act in certain situations.
“There are some instances of police excessive use of force in Palo Alto,” Stinger said. “But there’s also a lot of good work that’s done. So our objective was to balance the need for more reform with giving the police department the tools they need to do their job.”
While the 8Can’tWait movement has largely been a nationwide one, PAPD has had previous problems with excessive use of force.
In July 2019, Officer Thomas Destefano Jr. broke a bone in Palo Alto resident Julio Arevalo’s face in a late-night encounter. Destefano said Arevalo was involved in a drug transaction, but neither video footage nor physical evidence has confirmed this, according to a report from NBC Bay Area.
In a separate Feb. 2018 incident, PAPD Sgt. Wayne Benitez and other officers visited Gustavo Alvarez’s home at Buena Vista Mobile Park on suspicions of driving without a license. After Alvarez initially refused to come out, Benitez slammed Gustavo Alvarez against his car windshield, knocking several of his teeth out. Alvarez’s security camera captured the incident, as well as homophobic remarks made by Benitez.
“He’s gay,” Benitez said in the footage before whimpering something, mocking Alvarez for his high voice. The other officers laughed.
Benitez retired in the aftermath of the incident and currently receives a $118 thousand dollars-per-year pension. According to Mercury News, it is almost impossible for officers to lose their pensions for misconduct.
Stinger, like Mayor Fine and Rev. Smith, agreed that these changes along with further reforms are necessary to ensure the community’s safety.
“In light of all the unrest subsequent to recent events, we felt that we needed to do something now,” Stinger said. “But it’s undeniable that there’s more work to be done.”
The PAPD did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.