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Alhambra Police Hold Town Hall; Address Chokeholds, Reform and Mental Health Calls

Alhambra Chief of Police Timothy Vu answers questions during a virtual town hall, June 16, 2020.

Location

Alhambra , CA

The Alhambra Police Department held a 45-minute virtual Town Hall on Zoom on Tuesday afternoon to discuss and educate the public on the department’s training and use-of-force. It was held at the same horseshoe table in Reese Hall, that about 15 minutes earlier, hosted the City Council’s Strategic Planning meeting.

There was a Q&A session after the presentation, with questions from the public being asked by Alhambra Mayor Ross Maza. Residents had been invited to submit questions by email before 5 p.m. Monday, and no questions were taken via phone or Zoom.

Alhambra Police Chief Timothy Vu gave a presentation on the department’s use-of-force policy and their “response to #8CANTWAIT” – a social media campaign for police reform of eight policies and procedures that swept the nation after the death of George Floyd during his arrest on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn.

The last three weeks have been underscored with protests in support of equality, justice, accountability, the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality, including a march in Alhambra on June 3, that APD aided by offering an escort for the nearly 200 participants from Almansor Park to City Hall.

Vu’s opening remarks acknowledged the dialogue for police reform and said APD recognizes and respects all human life – of both community members and officers.

When it comes to developing policies on all police department procedures, Vu said the APD partners with Lexipol, a private company that provides training, analysis, best-practices research and other tools for first responders, and that the policy also adheres to state and local laws.

Vu outlined all eight points in the #8CANTWAIT proposal that the police department is currently applying or required to implement by law, and the corresponding department policy section or penal code.

Of the eight, the only one that was noted to have changed recently, was the use of “chokeholds” or “strangleholds,” called the carotid control hold. On one powerpoint slide, APD noted as of June 9 the department has suspended the use of the carotid control hold, but it seems to have not yet been permanently banned. The policy (300.3.4, on page 62) can be found on the city’s website, and has seven sub-points outlining the circumstances an officer should or should not use the control hold.

Vu said it is APD policy to use vehicle and body cameras to record interactions with the public, and then he introduced a video.

While the video was ultimately a good visual example of the way APD wants officers to respond to calls, it had some initial shock-value – two Alhambra officers pulling up to a shirtless Black man, in the middle of the night, from the viewpoint of an officer’s body camera. His face was obscured for most of the video, but was visible for an instant in the shuffle of officers stepping in to help.

After watching the entire interaction between the man and police, which was timestamped June 7, 2020, at about 2 a.m., those watching on Zoom saw him arrested without harm to his person. Tasering or other restraint methods were not used in the arrest.

The officers can be heard saying they think he had consumed drugs. Assistant Chief Eric Parra stated after the video that the man was taken to the hospital and had no recollection of the incident.

“This is not the man I want to see in my neighborhood in the middle of the night. He is scary,” Parra stated after the video. This was in apparent response to the man’s lack of response to officers’ commands, talking to himself and slow approach towards officers on the scene.

Parra then went on to break down the incident, explain the reasoning behind each move, and how the officer in command was able to give orders to other officers and the man, and ultimately de-escalate the incident. “Without proper training this situation could have gone horribly, poorly.”

In the Q&A section, the first question was if the police department was doing anything about the fireworks that have been going off throughout the city.

Vu said APD is working with the fire department to determine where the largest volume of complaints come from and at what time, and then deploy resources to patrol the areas. Police will confiscate, cite and bring charges against those who are caught lighting and/or selling illegal fireworks.

City Manager Jessica Binnquist, who was also in attendance, said at the Strategic Planning meeting earlier in the day that the city-approved firework stands which sell fireworks for the Fourth of July begin set up on June 28 and tear down on July 5. Anything other than that, especially the mortar, or overhead, fireworks are illegal.

The second question was posed by Alhambra Source, asked why Vu thought it was valuable for residents to understand APD policy and procedure.

Vu stated that the policy guides police, and “it’s an opportunity to see how and why the officers operate how they do.”

Much time was spent on mental health specialists, welfare check calls and training.

Parra said the APD is already working with L.A. County Department of Mental Health, Union Station services, and that officers do have training for responding to mental health or drug abuse calls, but they are also amenable to working towards partnering with social workers and other non-law enforcement agencies.

Mental health response was also discussed at the City Council’s Strategic Planning meeting, where Binnquist said Alhambra Police Department has one mental health specialist from the L.A. County Department of Mental Health that frequently goes with officers on response calls, for a range of reasons, from teens in distress to suicide warnings.

Throughout the town hall, Vu and Parra responded comfortably to questions with little reference to notes.

The town hall ended with three emailed comments, which were complimentary and thanking APD for a job well done. Roughly 75 people watched the town hall.

Sergeant Ruben Soriano of the COPPS – Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving – section of APD was also in attendance.

The town hall was recorded and will be available for viewing on the city website.

The Alhambra Source encourages comment on our stories. However, we do not vet comments for accuracy or endorse links to posts in the comment section. The thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author of the comment.

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