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Grover Beach should change how it reports use-of-force incidents, audit says 

The Grover Beach Police Department (GBPD) may consider making changes to how they report incidents of officers using force after an independent audit of the department revealed that its current practice may be inflating the GBPD's use-of-force statistics.

A department-wide audit commissioned in January by the city found that the GBPD's use-of-force statistics were unusually high because the department was counting some instances where officers were not actually using any physical force while engaging suspects.

California law allows police officers to use physical force when it is deemed necessary in the performance of their duties. Department policy also requires a review of all force incidents to ensure that officers were justified in using force and that it was within the GBPD's guidelines. Police departments like Grover Beach's are also required to submit use-of-force statistics to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) each year.

The audit stated that Grover Beach's use of force reports were well written and appropriately addressed each incident. However, it also found the department reported that force was used in anywhere from 5.5 to 6 percent of total arrests between 2012 and 2017—nearly three times the national average.

Those numbers aren't the result of officers using force more often, the audit stated.

While reviewing the department's use of force reports, auditors discovered that the GBPD was including incidents where officers merely "showed" force. For example, an incident where a Grover Beach officer ordered a suspect to exit a vehicle with his gun drawn initiated the department's use-of-force reporting process.

"The consultant found this to be unusual as no actual physical force was used to take the suspect into custody," the audit report stated.

The audit stated that the department was counting these "show of force" incidents together with incidents where officers actually did use physical force, resulting in the above average statistics. The audit recommended that if the department continues to review show-of-force incidents, they should be placed in a separate category and excluded from the statistics sent to the DOJ.

"The inclusion of these incidents skews the actual numbers and makes it appear that the Grover Beach Police Department is a department that is more apt to use force in arrest incidents than other police agencies," the audit stated, "which does not appear to be the case."

In addition to use of force, the audit covered several other areas of the department's operations, including staffing, dispatch, building and facilities operations, as well as its patrol and detective divisions. The audit, conducted by a consultant team consisting of former Santa Maria City Manager Rick Haydon and retired Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin, contained 37 total recommendations for the department. The audit was presented to members of the Grover Beach City Council at a July 9 special meeting. Δ

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