First published in the Oct. 1 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank Police Department received its biennial independent review, garnering generally positive appraisals from the Office of Independent Review Group, or OIR. Some points of contention surfaced from OIR’s review, most notably issues related to excessive use of force, de-escalation, internal policy and body-worn cameras.
The review provides insight into how well BPD “addresses allegations of misconduct, scrutinizes uses of force involving its personnel, evaluates vehicle pursuits by its officers, and otherwise takes steps to promote accountability and agency improvement through a range of processes,” according to the OIR report.
OIR is headed up by Michael Gennaco. During Gennaco’s time as a federal prosecutor, he supervised more than 20 federal grand jury investigations into police misconduct. He conducted a number of successful civil rights prosecutions against law enforcement for excessive force, including officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and federal immigration detention.
OIR was contracted as BPD’s “outside independent monitor” in 2012 to initiate reforms in the department after allegations of excessive use of force and a new command staff was appointed.
Since then, some things have changed at BPD, including new faces in the offices of City Attorney and Chief of Police. The department’s body-worn camera program, which just began last year, is now in full swing — and was selected by OIR Group as the topic for an “extra” audit.
In a report to Burbank City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 27, Gennaco said that BPD conduct has improved significantly since OIR began monitoring the department and that the recommendations in 2022 when compared to those in 2012 can be seen as the difference between “graduate level recommendations” and “remedial” ones.
“The department’s biennial community study showed that residents feel safe in the city and are confident in the department’s ability to address and handle their public safety needs,” he said.
“I’m well known in the city for being very critical of municipal law enforcement and policing in general. I am very appreciative to have a [police] department here that I have very little to be critical of,” said Burbank Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony during Tuesday’s meeting.
Areas for improvement were posited in the review in the form of 21 recommendations.
Notably, BPD disagreed with one OIR recommendation that the department should reconsider its practice of inviting involved officers to attend Critical Incident Review briefings, “so as not to complicate the candid presentation of facts,” stated OIR.
Additionally, OIR found that BPD’s internal incident reviews infrequently identified “out of policy” behavior in officers. In one example, an officer’s tactical decision to go hands-on with a felony subject, rather than follow standard procedures, resulted in a dangerous tug-of-war with a possibly armed subject that placed himself, fellow officers and the subject in potential harm’s way. In another, a supervisor interviewed a robbery subject before reading him his rights. However, both situations were determined to be in line with policy.
BPD also disagreed with OIR recommendations that the department should “amend policy to require that all officers detail in writing the circumstances surrounding their uses of force to include any efforts to de-escalate prior to the use of force; and if no de-escalation techniques were deployed, an explanation for why none were deployed.”
In straying from OIR’s recommendations, BPD said in a staff report: “It would be impractical to mandate, via policy, why no de-escalation techniques were deployed in each use of force situation,” citing that “reporting best practices” would serve as a suitable replacement for the recommendation.
“Officer compliance with policy expectations for the use of the cameras appears to be high, and the recordings themselves have added a significant dimension to the accountability of officers and to the ability of agency supervisors to review individual incidents thoroughly,” the OIR report states.
That said, the review noted multiple incidents where officers, intentionally or unintentionally, turned off recording devices in the middle of an interaction. “While instances of muting were not widespread in the examples we surveyed, they did occur on occasion — and were not documented in the accompanying reports as required,” the review states, though no evidence was reviewed that suggested malintent in these missteps.
BPD agreed with OIR recommendations regarding body-worn cameras.
The department entered 2021 with lofty goals for technological and professional advancements. It implemented two major long-term technology projects: transitioning to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “National Incident-Based Reporting System” and launching a new application to effectively collect and report data for the State of California’s “Racial Identify and Profiling Act.”
These two initiatives provide increased data transparency and better tracking at the state and national levels.
Ultimately, BPD received high marks from OIR staff who concluded the report with praise: “The people of Burbank should be assured by the fundamental soundness of their department.”