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San Marcos City Council receives presentation, holds dialogue on Use of Force committee

Sunday, July 18, 2021

San Marcos City Council recently received a presentation from the Ad Hoc Council-Appointed Use of Force Committee and Chief of Police Stan Standridge regarding police department policy relating to response to resistance and aggression.

Committee members, Standridge and the city council discussed the Use of Force committee’s recommendations during a work session meeting on July 6. The discussion followed six meetings held by the Use of Force committee, which was composed of 15 city council-appointed members.

During the committee's meetings, members reviewed 8CanWait — a campaign recommending several policy initiatives for cities around the use of force — information from the National Consensus Policy and Discussion Paper on Use of Force and reviewed use of force from a legal perspective and current standards established. The committee then conducted a line-by-line critique of the San Marcos Police Department’s current Use of Force policy.

“The committee was dedicated to conducting a very intentional line-by-line review of the current policy,” committee member Kathy Martinez-Prather said. “And so, there are several key areas that the committee made recommendations on, and we believe that with the policy recommendations made, we’ve put forward a much-improved and better Use of Force policy for our San Marcos Police Department.”

The committee gave three key recommendations, including the addition of de-escalation into the definition section and procedures section of the policy; adding a section on “medical attention,” for anyone injured after use of force has been applied was added to a section of the policy; and the committee added a section to the policy on “Department Analysis,” which provided additional language clarifying a timeframe of when the department’s use of force report will be available to the public and how it can be accessed.

“This policy is inclusive of de-escalation,” Standridge said. “This policy values the sanctity of all human life. Nobody has enumerated that point. This policy is inclusive of the duty to intervene. A duty to provide medical aid. This policy requires comprehensive annual reporting provided both to the citizens and to the city council before March 1st of each year for the preceding calendar year.”

The police chief’s comments came after a lengthy conversation regarding the committee’s work and concerns regarding the process taken. Some councilmembers were concerned that the redline document outlining the changes made by the use of force committee wasn’t immediately made available.

Councilmember Maxfield Baker brought up concerns that minutes weren’t made available to the city council. He also brought up concerns about attendance and whether virtual options were made available.

Standridge said attendance wasn’t 100% but did say virtual options were available for committee members.

“One of our members dropped when we had the officer-involved shooting on Interstate 35. She very clearly stated that she ‘could not assist a police department that murdered people,’ literally her comment,” Standridge said. “I can’t control those variables and so that person left the committee. I did not hear anybody complaining because we had ample room. Everybody here can attest to the fact that we were all separated. I will also tell you that these conversations were incredibly vigorous, so in-person meetings were probably the best mechanism for having these.”

Baker said he was disappointed with the lack of additional virtual access for the meetings, claiming it created a systemic barrier. Standridge, however, refuted Baker’s claim saying virtual options were made available for those on the panel.

“We didn’t afford virtual access for people outside of this committee,” Standridge said. “So, I’d like to clarify what Councilman Baker just said. I don’t think that we created a systemic barrier for access to the persons who were actually assigned to this committee by you all. In fact, they were encouraged either way virtually or in-person to attend. Some opted not to.”

But committee member Samantha Benavides said virtual options were no longer made available after she received an email from SMPD Administrative Coordinator Tammy Strakos on March 11. The email from Strakos stated that “from this point forward, due to the nature of the hands-on work we will be doing with policy, we will no longer be able to accommodate virtual meetings … We will be working in a live environment with a redline document capturing changes as they occur in group discussion.”

This led to Baker asking whether Standridge lied during the council meeting about the availability of virtual options. The chief of police later addressed Baker’s accusation.

“As it relates to whether or not I lied related to whether or not persons had the ability to attend virtually or in-person, I have zero doubt that Ms. Benavides was correct when said that on March 11th there was an email sent,” Standridge said. “I also can tell you that I did not personally facilitate nor oversee everybody’s electronic engagement. What I distinctly remember in many of these meetings was the fact that the attendees were both virtually and physically present. And I only know that because when they would unmute, it would cause massive havoc, as you all have experienced in council chambers. So, I don’t know that it dignifies any further response.”

Regarding the committee’s work, Benavides said she was in the minority, stating that she didn’t feel the changes made were substantial enough.

“I think there’s a lot more work to do in terms of criminal justice reform and improving our police department,” said Benavides, adding that she believed the committee’s actions were only performative, “a way to say we brought the community together and we changed this policy.”

Benavides’ fellow committee members took issue with her claims.

“This was hours on hours of going through line by line of this Use of Force policy that we have,” committee member Cherif Gacis said. “What we’re bringing to council at the moment is the best options that we had at the moment.”

Added Martinez-Prather: “I think there is always room for improvement. This isn’t the last time this policy will be looked at, should be looked at, should be revised and reviewed and adjusted on an annual basis. So, I do think we moved the ball forward and made some vast improvements. I hope that the work continues to be done.”

Citing council’s concerts regarding the lack of documentation, Director of Public Safety Chase Stapp said they could share with councilmembers the redline document as well as meeting minutes and attendance to the extent they’re available.

With the committee’s presentation to city council, Stapp said the committee members’ work is considered complete.

“Again, I would like to thank the committee and the supporting staff for their work,” Mayor Jane Hughson said.

San Marcos Record

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