By Deb Murphy
Three weeks after George Floyd died of cardiopulmonary arrest from a Minneapolis police officer’s knee on his neck, the uproar seemed to turn toward reform of both bias and deadly force by police departments. Then, last Friday in Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks was shot twice in the back as he fled two police officers. Brooks had grabbed an officer’s Taser in a struggle after being arrested for falling asleep at a Wendy’s drive thru. His blood alcohol level was a hair past sober.
I was raised Catholic. A lot of religion dropped off over the years, but the part about treating people as you’d want to be treated stuck, most of the time. These last few weeks seem incomprehensible. The Civil Rights Bill was passed nearly 60 years ago; America is supposed to be a fully integrated society. Biases die hard, but law enforcement is supposed to be color blind.
So, how does local law enforcement exorcise, or at least bury far below the surface, racial prejudice? In Inyo, African Americans make up less than 1-percent of the population. Hispanics make up 22-percent; Native Americans, 13-percent. Depending on what day you check the Sheriff’s RIM site, there are far fewer white mug shots than non-white.
“There’s no room for prejudice” in Inyo County’s Sheriff’s Department said Sheriff Jeff Hollowell.
Hollowell ran through the process before officers are officially on duty. There’s six months of training, another 664 hours in the academy, 900 hours of training in Riverside. Once an officer goes through all that, he or she hits the street with a veteran officer. Even when a new officer is qualified to respond to calls, solo, he’s shadowed. Even veterans take refresher courses or are trained on “some obscure section” of the penal code. Hopefully, Hollowell said, the training program brings out any issues.
The state Police Officers’ Bill of Rights spell out how the administration deals with employees. “It’s hard to terminate,” Hollowell said. The first offense is a warning, the second, a written reprimand. The third offense, the officer spends “days on the beach” without pay. The fourth ends in termination. “It takes six to eight months,” Hollowell admitted, but eventually, “he’s gone.”
While the Department has no programs to keep people out of jail or re-direct those who serve their sentence, the Bishop Paiute Tribe, Health and Human Services and Probation do. “They work on what’s negative,” Hollowell said, “and open them up to their abilities and choices.”
The Department’s dispatches play a role in keeping rookie officers focused. “They calm them down during pursuits,” Hollowell said.
There are significant differences between California and the Midwest or East Coast, he added. Officers have a duty to intercede if their partners step over the line. If a Taser is used, the person has to be medically cleared before he or she is booked.
Inyo County’s population is a fraction of even the smaller communities in Southern California. That helps. As Jeff Thomson, Inyo’s probation chief, has said—“they’re all our family.”