It was a nice day of may when i awaited Officer K. for a genuine interview in the hope to share some light on the recent issues between the PD and the Mayor Office.
Officer K. was off duty and in his own right to express sincerely his own ideas the moment we met.
At first he seemed a common man in his youth, casual clothing and shades. You couldn't have told he was a cop except for the slight composed and disciplined language of his body and the confidence in his words.
We went to the seaside hoping a comfortable place regretting to not have some beach clothes to enjoy the nice day and empty shore looking like normal tourists before to finally sit on a jetty nearby to finally record the interview.
Of course Officer K. is a fictional name, a measure felt right given his line of work and the messy situation in the power places of Santa Ramona. He smiled founding it a reminder of man in black. We were finally ready and in front of that beautiful sea my first question was on the way.
Annie Rose -"How do you felt about the long strike and the situation in Santa Ramona? The citizens are divided between openly supporting you and the fear of not having you on the streets. I'm personally happy you came back to patrol but i feel that your actions were justified by the PCB proposal, that seems to be a clear interference of the Mayor in a business she should not be messing with. As far as i know she has to respond to justice like any other citizen like her City Manager and there's quite the conflict of interest in her take."
Officer K. -"Well.." he started to answer, with his eyes staring to the ocean" I must start by stating that my feelings do not necessarily represent the feelings of all SRPD members even those that went on strike with us. At the end of the day the trigger point for others might have been different. That being said I feel it was necessary. I believe that while there was tension between the PD and areas of the Southside of the City, that the almost constant perpetuating of untruths and hatred from the Mayors office during our negotiation period had risen those levels to not just an intolerable but seriously dangerous level for our officers. Some incidences that happened in the weeks before the strike made that obvious to us and was one of the biggest factors in deciding that it had come to that point. The Police Department has maintained right from the start that we welcome civilian oversight. What we cannot allow is a board that takes all major control from Police Department Command staff, and places it in the hands of biased individuals, when at least one of which has a string of criminal convictions and in recent months has made serious and criminal threats to the department on social media. With only one member of that board being independent of city government and elected, by the other three members. Citizen Oversight as used in other departments in the country is supposed to be an unbiased review board, this is clearly not going to be the case with the proposed PCB. Plus in insisting that SRPD staff have to go before this board to plead for mental health provision if they are traumatized or effected by something witnessed on the job and remember we see some the most atrocious things human beings can ever do to each other, is not only morally wrong it is also illegal. We are officers of the law sworn to upload it, to force us to comply with board that we know to be performing illegal acts is not acceptable on any level. My personal feelings are that it was necessary. That it had come to the point that something had to be done and the Police Department exercised its right to do so."
AR- "In Santa Ramona we have around 20.000 souls and Californian GDP pro capita is around the 50 grand. That gives to our city around 1 billion dollars of taxable incomes which is probably held for the large part by the healthiest. Some of the local taxes should be under City Hall responsibility. Carly Brucato profess herself as a "People Representative" and should be quite prone to tax the rich more to help her voters to be safer and more supported by welfare. To put this into perspective if it's true that the top 10% own the 50% of the cake a 2% tax increase on them could be enough to raise anywhere between 8 to 15 million dollars which is way more than you demand and what she offers to the less lucky of us. Do you think she's showing her true colors? How do you feel about this?"
OK- "I would say I cannot comment on the population numbers or the amount of tax raised from them as I have not seen any of the city budgets.. So like all of us I simply must assume that the amounts given to us are accurate. I would however suggest that a lot of the budget was spent rebuilding other the Earthquake, and I know Storm Rick back last year signed off a big part of the finances too. That being said I would say since the main theme of the Mayors office is transparency and accountability that that should apply to their Office too, I therefore think it would be reasonable for any member of the city to ask to view those accounts and budgets, if that's something they felt the need to do. I can assure you only a small percentage goes to the Police Department though."
Officer K. was right, and the spending to recover from recent accidents was a factor i hadn't considered, and one that was pretty important even if the lack of progressive taxation on the richest felt quite in contradiction with her people campaign.
AR -Thinking about the last question, i found strange that she hired the last mayor that for his position and interests could be considered more inclined to be a right wing figure. On the Newspaper she referred to him as qualified but still there should be something on his record about shooting in public which make me wonder if by 'qualified' she refers to whatever but criminal records. How do you feel about this situation? He was hired as a City Manager and would have control on the police itself by the proposed PCB scheme."
OK-"Well...As I already mentioned Mr Castle has a string of convictions and has served time in jail for a number of offences, mostly Aggravated Assault, Battery and Firearm charges. He is also currently serving time on probation, for attempting to goad an SRPD Officer to shoot and kill him when he turned up intoxicated to open the new Southside Clinic. And as you just said he's the City Manager and would have control on the police itself by the proposed PCB scheme. I don't about you or your readers but that seriously concerns me."
AR- "I have to tell I'm always a bit scared when a politician starts to talk about 'independent' commission to evaluate something, because i like to go further and wonder about from whom they are independent. She even go so far as to make examples of other cities forgetting that Police Commissioners in other cities (usually bigger and with other issues compared to Santa Ramona) are for the most part elected or raised from Police ranks. The PCB would be nominated giving the Mayor the chance to arrange to have 8 out of 9 on her side."
OK-" Citizen oversight, should be unbiased and fair. As far as I am aware the examples given the Citizen oversight board, reviews discipline given to Officers and other matters pertaining to Officers conduct, but the keyword there is reviews, the board is able to make recommendations and work 'with' the Police Department Command and other agencies to ensure improvement is made when discrepancies arise between what Police Department protocol gives as suitable discipline and what the public feels is, which can often be greatly inflated by lack of understanding of the details of the situations, emotions, grief or previous dealings with police, perhaps even in different counties.The proposed PCB proposal given as it is by the Mayor's office and the one she seems to be set on implementing regardless, is not suggesting a board that provides Oversight and review as one that would have more control then even the County Governor. One where the city manager already mentioned Would be able to use whatever methods he choose to investigate disciplinary matters within the PD. Bearing in mind we have records of criminal threats made against the department, by this man."
AR- "The Office has harsh tones and seems to not worry about cleaning the dirt in public places. Do you feel supported by her? What are your thoughts about it when you walk the street?"
OK "Do I feel supported by the Mayors office? No definitely not." He looked at me for a while before to answer. "While I as every other SRPD Officer has taken and oath that we would back up with our own lives if it came to it, while we all know that is real possibility, the dangerous, hateful and distrusting rhetoric that is on the streets has increased since the Mayors office has been stirring people up. Its gone from Graffiti to vague threats to very serious and concerning death threats made not only against us but some of our kids, to sniper shots being fired at SRPD Officers during the recent strike, the self same Officers who by their own will the previous day helped drag civilians from a burning building and detain an arsonist, even though they were on strike. That is not acceptable."
AR- " And leads to the next one...Recently you had an incident involving dead pigs with officers name carved on those, which i have to tell is a real waste of good meet. I felt strange that the Mayor has not publicly condemned the event and tried to use that as a bridge to heal the relationships between the city parts. Has she at least some word in private about the accident?"
OK."So glad you find it humorous" He seemed genuinely upset by my humor and i had to apologize. Humor is my own way to keep pain distant, to overcome it and find a catharsis, but still those names on the bodies weren't mine or of someone dear. "Well I have to say...Actually the Mayors office did send out a statement the following day condemning the incident. Although it seems to of done little to garner a greater understanding of the atrocities we have work with on a weekly basis. And our continued need for suitable and prompt mental health professionals to work with us and allow us to process the things we have to work with. While this incidence was particularly horrific by the names and threats made to our innocent children, it is pretty atypical of the horrors we deal with."
I felt relieved that Ms. Brucato sent at least a statement and i found that was something in her favor.
AR "This leads to a less pleasant question, but we really need to elaborate to make people understand more since it's one of the focal things in discussion: I've red recently an open letter about Evelina Stone about the mental treatment for cops. I have to say i am amongst the one that felt really unnecessary and confusing the birth of an internal squad inside the PD to deal with those. I get the need for special care considered the stress you feel every day and statistics don't lie: a cop life is far from an easy one, but i feel a better deal with the Hospital and a better communication with the existing EMS better suited to ease the situation. Still the Mayor seems to not think about it this way. Can you elaborate and explain your thoughts, how you feel about it. You can even share some story that you think can give us a better example of what your everyday working life is."
OK. " First let me clarify. Dr Stone had not previously made the offers to us to the extent she did in that article it was in fact the first we had heard about the offer of dedicated rooms and personnel. And I for one am eternally grateful to her for the offer, and I believe it is one we may be able to make this work. After some bashing out of details with Dr Stone we believe that now we have this promising solution it may well sufficient to cover officers needs. I believe that its hard for the public to understand the need for urgent processing of things after witnessing some of the scenes we do." Officer K. had a slight hesitation before to open up to some stories and I have to disclaim that they are unpleasant and graphic. If you feel like too sensitive, feel free to skip till the next question because it's hard to swallow the ink that follows this comment. " Yes I can share some stories with you. I will leave names out for privacy reasons though. Just recently SRPD Officers were called to a body that was hung from the footbridge over on Redwood trails. We arrived to what we assumed was a simple suicide, to find the body of a female with its throat cut. There was blood everywhere, not only that but the body had been skinned. We are not talking about about pig or cow or something here, a human being. Now I don't know if you have ever seen a skinned body but let me tell its one of most grotesque things you will ever witness, aside from blood there was body matter, intestines, faecal matter, urine all over the stairs beneath. The smell alone is enough to make even the most senior Officers stomachs turn. On this particular occasion the FD was unavailable to assist. So those officers attending had to manhandle the body down, getting that cocktail of human bodily fluids all over them. Remember these men and woman are not EMTs they are Police Officers and trained very differently to EMT's. Can you imagine the nightmares, and mental health issues would arise from a scene like that if it is left unprocessed and they have no one to help them work through the trauma of what they have witnessed. I myself have got people out of houses in which there has been rotting, stinking, maggot infested bodies in the next room, I have held people skulls and brains together after they have blown their heads open in front of me with a gun in their mouths while waiting for EMT's to arrive. I have witnessed rapists sexually assaulting people and not even having the decency to cease their actions when we arrive on scene, but simply carrying on the assault with us all in the room. That's just a small snapshot of what we deal with on a weekly basis and it illustrates the need to get those images out of our systems quickly."
I felt bitter and horrified by the lucid depictions of Officer K. It was like someone just punched my stomach when i understood how those images were sculpted deep inside his mind as he shared those stories like he was still living them through his own words. I was unsure if it was alright to publish them that way or in a washed out version but i felt the urgency to share those with the readers, knowing about the distress they could feel. I shared that thought with the off duty officer.
OK- "Yeah well then you can imagine what happens when we go off scene from that, how do you go home to your wives, or partners and resume a normal family life? How do you sleep? You don't, is the answer, you go back into work the next day or later, tired from lack of sleep and just push it all down unless you have someone there to help you process it all, and you do it over and over again. That's what we are trying to help our officers deal with," I asked if i could add this detail and his answer was quite concerning "its a sad fact of the world we live in that more cops died by suicide than in line of duty in the last year alone. Sooner or later our department is going to add to those statics unless we have some greater support in place."
AR- "Carly Brucato has lately delved into the double role of Mayor and journalist, using the media like an hammer on your department. It's unprecedented and as far as i remember usually when a journalist is elected usually feels appropriate to close the pen in a drawer and be a politician meanwhile. I find her pieces quite violent, not constructive and written on the ferociously focused at demeaning your job. How do you guys feel about it? Does it seem normal for you?"
OK.- "While we usually endure a certain amount of criticisms on our Twitter sight. We normally ignore them, unless they escalate to actual threats, it as we do not feel its appropriate for SRPD to engage in arguments with people on social media. During this campaign we have used the media sparingly only releasing press releases when there was need to inform the public of our intentions or to clarify our actions. We will not ever engage in negative media campaign against anyone. The media is valuable way of reaching people and we respect it."
AR.-"Have you ever thought that her relationships with Frank Castle could be one of the reasons behind this escalation? He beat a protester lately, threatened to shot her and even keep the feud going on twitter after that with one of her daughter as well, giving more than an hint at how vindictive the man could be. Do you find having the Castle Foundation inside the administration machine a good thing?"
OK- " I have already expressed my concerns regarding Mr Castle's position in regard to the proposed PCB and his position as City manager and stated about his previous convictions. Beyond that I will not comment."
AR- "Do you think something like the PCB could have a legal foothold or it's impossible to see the light? Mayor Brucato often cites Court decisions of the past without the acumen to look at the context or without the good faith to see it."
OK- "Since the requirement for Officers to justify there need for mental health assistance without undue oversight is in fact a violation of United States HIPPA laws on that grounds alone the PCB as proposed by the mayor is illegal. Also the PCB makes no comment of where the court oversight we have to satisfy at the present comes in. We do not believe the exclusion of the courts from the process is legal either. In terms the other proposals made such as requiring 50% of the PD to live in the Southside, human rights laws gives people the right to live were they chose if there is now lawful reason why they should not, US constitutional rights echo those."
AR.- "Glad to hear there's more than a Issue about that. I remember another communication posted by the office on the journal involving the strike that felt quite threatening. It's common to have a strike unpaid but still it's a right as far as i know. What's your opinion on the matter?"
OK- "In the United States of America, it is in fact unlawful to stop the striking employees pay if they strike on the grounds of intolerable working conditions. As we made very clear by our filing our grievance with the Californian Labour board for unfair labour practices and as the denying of officers the basic right of mental health support which is as far as I am aware a requirement of Police Department's all over the country, by forcing the Police Department to have to make dangerous juggling acts with important life saving equipment or training, it has always been my belief that not only have our working conditions been made not only intolerable they have been made even more dangerous than they already are. The claims made in that communication at the time it appeared in the paper had to my knowledge already been countermanded by a higher authority. Leading me to the conclusion that publishing it was simply done in order to turn the citizens of SRV against us and effectively lead the people of the town to believe we were in fact out laws. Coincidence that the incident of shots being fired at Officers happened the following day?"
AR. -"I hope it was a coincidence, but still the Office seems to have poisoned the situation in a way that could have spiralled out of control for the city. One of the reasons i'm doing this interview is to make people understand more of either parties. Which leads to this hello kitty rhetoric our Mayor has sometimes. The mayor always talks about Parks for Children and Shelters for the homeless, which to be honest it's pretty stunning since the lack of parks is the least worry considering it looks pretty probable a Southside mother could have to walk amongst the needles there paying attention to the pushers around. What do you feel the real needs of this city are by a policeman perspective?"
OK. -"Good question. I know the Fire Department is somewhat under staffed, I certainly feel some investment into assisting recruitment there is needed. I also believe dedicated Social Workers and Parole Officers would take some of the burdens off of other overstretched faculties and provide a bridge between the public and those agencies, perhaps helping to lower crime as well. Tougher sentencing by the courts would help with re offending I feel. On a personal level I would like to see a nice tree lined park on the Southside too, but as you say that's not without problems."
AR- "Whats the situation about training and trainees?"
OK- "The training we are requesting budget for is above and beyond our normal training procedures. When we have new recruits they are assessed according to if they have transferred from other departments and have Law enforcement experience. Rookies are assigned to Field Training Officers(FTO's) who take them under their wings until they have completed the requirements to move up to full fledged Officers."
AR- "Chief Jade has been publicly criticized by the mayor for her involvement in the Ramirez case, taking a chance to add more drama after he showed up in uniform at his wedding. can you say something to make the situation clearer for the Citizens?"
OK-"Okay let me clarify Sergeant Ramirez did not turn up at his wedding in uniform. He did turn up at a recent council meeting in uniform. However being in uniform does not construe being on duty. At the meeting orders were given by the chief to a member of Command, to get the department operational again and resume Police Department duties and patrols, that in no way means Sergeant Ramirez was ordered to resume active duties."
AR- "How does it work at the moment the complaints by the citizens?"
OK- "At present what happens when a civilian makes a complaint about the conduct of a PD, depends on whether it is officially reported or not. There seems to be section of the public that do not contact the PD and make a complaint but then get rather upset about it when nothing is done. However if a complaint is made officially than it goes to the attention of Command who look at it and determine the nature of the complaint. If the complaint is found to be credible and if the complaint does not involve a criminal act, Command Officers of the Police Department will enact punishment upon the officer according to our processes and protocols, taking into account any previous violations or incidences they are aware of. The complaint and action and form will then be sent to IA. If IA agrees with the action, the complaint is filed for future reference. If IA does not agree, they can file a grievance and advise the Police Department Command Officers of a more suitable action. The second route for a complaint is if the complaint involves alleged criminal acts or police brutality. In this case, the officer is placed on paid suspension. Then the case is turned over to IA to investigate. Upon the completion of the investigation IA will determine the level of wrong doing if any, by the officer. If the complaint does not rise to the level of criminal charges,but wrong doing by the officer was found to exist, IA will advise the Police Department Command Officers of a suitable punishment. If the complaint rises to the level of criminal charges, and IA recommends criminal charges be filed against the officer, then the officer will then be placed on unpaid suspension pending the outcome of the court case. If the officer is cleared of all charges, the officer may resume their duties within the Police Department, receiving full back pay for their unpaid suspension. If the officer is found guilty or pleads no contest, the officer will be terminated from their position and barred from being employed for the SRPD."
AR- "The mayor seems obsessed about beatings and illegal action by the police, but i haven't heard much about it. Could you share some statistic or just have a few words about it? Just a populist attack or there's something we should know?"
OK- "In the last year there have been 8 reported and investigated complaints or incidents involving officers. 1 was an accidental discharge of a firearm during a traffic accident. The Officer in question was suspended and ordered to retake her gun certification on return. She resigned shortly after. Was 1 off duty officer was accused of abusing authority. Officer was suspended pending investigation. Investigation found no evidence of this. Officer returned to duty. and then later resigned. 1 was an internal matter between to Officers, Officer was cleared of all wrong doing. In another, 2 off duty officers beat a man outside of creamy centers. They were suspended and then chose to resign and leave California rather than face criminal investigation. They are barred from working in the police department again and will face those criminal charges should they return to Santa Ramona. 1 officer became overly aggressive and rude with parollee. The Officer left scene, leaving his partner in dangerous situation. Officer was suspended and ordered psychiatric treatment. 1 officer became overly aggressive and pushed female witness. Officer was put on desk duty, told to formally apologize, received extra training in appropriate tactics and given warning, 1 officer pulled his gun from holster in attempt to calm down a citizen who was getting upset. He was attempting to ask what accessories she would suggest he purchase for it. Officer was given warning and retraining. As you can see, the cases that do involve any kind of alleged brutality or inappropriate behaviour have been dealt with promptly."
AR.-"We've done.. I've good faith on what could this become. Thank you very much, and believe me.. I really hope SRPD and City Hall could work things out.. "Thank you to have granted me this talk"
And i hope this piece could help you readers to have a better understanding about the situation in Santa Ramona and about the issues our Police Department have to sustain to keep order in our city safe, as simple human beings.