Police should avoid unnecessary enforcement that could provoke conflict among protesters, avoid looking too militaristic, and use rubber bullets and tear gas only as a last resort when handling demonstrations and protests, according to recommendations released Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.

The recommendations from Newsom’s policy advisors come months after demonstrations were held across the country, state and region, some of which involved rioting, looting and arson.

In La Mesa, a protest that began peacefully in late May devolved into riots, when some people in the crowds looted stores, vandalized property and set fires.

City police and county sheriff’s deputies used tear gas and fired rubber bullets or other less-lethal projectiles — one of which seriously wounded a 58-year-old La Mesa woman who was shot in her face.

“The role of police officers in protests and demonstrations is to keep the peace, and facilitate the ability of protesters to demonstrate peacefully without infringing on their First Amendment rights,” Newsom said in a statement announcing the recommendations.

“Implementation of these recommendations will help ensure our law enforcement agencies are better equipped to respond safely to protests and demonstrations and reinforce the values of community partnership, de-escalation, and restraint,” he said.

The recommendations will go to the statewide Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, for review and potential inclusion into police training. The commission sets the minimum standards for all peace officers in California.

There are several suggestions, including keeping body-worn cameras on during demonstrations and identifying hate groups that may be interrupting protests.

Some of the recommended changes may take a legislative fix, such as prohibiting the use of dogs or water cannons for crowd control, restricting use of projectiles and tear gas, and clearly defining what makes an assembly unlawful — which is often the trigger for when police turn to tougher tactics.

Protests against police bias and racial injustice spread across the country over the last four months following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a White Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Thousands marched daily in San Diego County, and some of the demonstrations turned riotous, including on May 30 in La Mesa where two banks were burned, several stores were looted and some people broke into City Hall.

The following day, protesters marched in downtown San Diego, and during tense moments some people in the crowd were seen shoving and throwing items. Police fired tear gas and flashbangs before the crowd marched off. Smaller groups later dispersed throughout the area, and there were reports of vandalism and looting.

Days later, Newsom called for restrictions on how police respond to demonstrations.

The protest incidents prompted a bill from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, to regulate when officers could use rubber bullets and other less lethal weapons, as well as bar them from using tear gas to gain crowd control.

That bill, AB 66, failed to make it out of the Legislature, dying on the final day of session in August. But the topic of regulating police use of projectiles and chemical agents during protests and other elements of her bill made it onto the list of recommendations introduced Tuesday.

Gonzalez said she was “grateful” to see those recommended changes on the list. And even if they are adopted by the commission that oversees police standards, she said she hopes to codify those changes into law with a bill she intends to introduce next year.

“It’s easy to lose sight of the importance of things like regulating projectile weapons,” Gonzalez said. “We are not in the middle of civil unrest, but as soon as we have protests again on anything, we are going to once again see the need to really have statewide standards on the use of these types of weapons.”

Some law enforcement reform bills survived, and Newsom signed them into law last month. Among them is a ban on the use of the carotid restraint, known as the sleeper hold.

Asked for comment on the suggested changes out of Newsom’s office, a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said the department “was actually sought out and happily participated in providing input.”

Some of those recommended changes are already Sheriff’s Department policy, Lt. Ricardo Lopez said, including requiring body-worn cameras to be rolling when deputies are in contact with the public, including at protests.

San Diego police declined to comment on the recommendations because officials there had not yet reviewed them.

Like the list of crowd management recommendations released Tuesday, the statewide ban on the carotid restraint started with a recommendation from Newsom to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

Newsom’s recommendation came days after law enforcement agencies in San Diego County announced in June they would no longer allow officers to use the hold, following the lead of San Diego police Chief David Nisleit.

San Diego-area activists had pushed the department for years to get rid of the controversial restraint, but met resistance — until the police reform protests swept the nation in late May.

After the rioting in La Mesa late May 30 and into the morning of May 31, the City Council hired an outside firm to review what happened and the Police Department’s response. That review is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The policy advisors who came up with the recommendations said that they are also, at Newsom’s direction, working to ensure that new use-of-force laws are being implemented statewide. Those laws include AB 392, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. It calls for police to only use deadly force when “necessary” — the standard had been “reasonable.”

It is one of the strictest standards in the country.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.


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