TO PROTECT & SERVE IN 202001 September 2020 Written by By Brentwood Police Chief, Tom Hansen
Published in September 2020 Articles
The year 2020 has proven to be the most challenging of all my 32 years in law enforcement.
In the midst of trying to help protect the health and well-being of our community, came the ripple effect of a national outcry for police reform due to the horrifying death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. My officers and I stand united against any misconduct perpetuated by law enforcement within our nation. The Brentwood PD’s focus has and always will be to protect and serve our community effectively. The recent violence and public scrutiny directed toward law enforcement, which is based on misconduct from a small percentage of police officers, is an unjustified travesty, leaving good officers demoralized, frustrated, and feeling undervalued. I am not aware of one police officer (and I know a lot) who believes that the actions of the Minneapolis police officers who were on scene at the George Floyd incident were justified.
While the media was showcasing riots and damage done to other major cities, my main objective was to ensure the safety of people and property within the 15 square miles of Brentwood, California. Brentwood is not a major city, but the threat of violent protest was present in our community on June 1, 2020. We received intelligence collected from social media that indicated that people intended to travel to the city of Brentwood with the intent to cause damage to retail stores located at the Streets of Brentwood. The Brentwood Police Department issued a statement that read “While we stand by everyone’s right to peacefully protest in this difficult time, threats of looting and vandalism will be taken seriously.” I directed my staff to develop a plan to respond and protect the Streets of Brentwood, which they successfully did.
Currently there are 25 bills that have been introduced into the California State Legislature that are related to law enforcement reform. My concern is that elected officials in Sacramento who have no experience in policing will enact legislation that will have dire consequences for our officers and communities. For example, I have recently read about some cities across the nation that are prohibiting their police departments from deploying tear gas and other less lethal munitions at scenes of civil unrest. How are hostile crowds that are destroying property and hurling bricks and Molotov cocktails at the police officers supposed to be controlled? Without the ability to deploy tear gas or other crowd-control methods, officers will not be able to effectively stop advancing violent crowds.
“The need to communicate and build relationships with all community members is more critical now than any other time in recent history.”
Another area of concern is taking use of force options away from police officers. Recently, Governor Newsom ordered the carotid control hold to stop being taught at all California Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) police training programs. Because most California police departments follow POST guidelines, many police chiefs, including me, changed policy to prohibit the use of the carotid control hold. The media was portraying the carotid restraint as a chokehold, which was not accurate. The carotid control hold is not the same as a chokehold. In my career, I have had the carotid control hold safely applied to me several times in training environments. It is also used safely in mixed martial arts.
Police officers aren’t trained to be mental health professionals or drug/alcohol rehabilitation experts, but in so many cases, they are expected to be exactly that. Take the homeless population in Brentwood for example, many of our homeless folks are in their situation due to mental illness or substance abuse. Members of my department personally visit those communities on a regular basis to offer help and assistance. I have personally offered to drive individuals in these communities to rehabilitation services or other services in the county, and to date, not one person has taken me up on the offer. This population contributes to crime and blight in our community. These encampments become public health and safety issues in the city as garbage and property pile up creating significant cost to the city. I am not insensitive to the needs of homeless, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of our homeless, especially when it is cold and raining outside.
The fact is, I don’t have the tools to effectively deal with our homeless population. The courts have ruled that homelessness is not a crime, and people have a right to rest and sleep on public space. I believe that the homeless problem in California is being looked at solely as a lack-of-shelter problem and shelter is not the fix to homelessness. Without treatment for these individuals, it does not matter what shelter you give them, the root cause is not being addressed.
In my opinion, if we took a multi-pronged approach at solving the homeless problem, it could be resolved in a few years. It is going to take members of the mental health and drug/alcohol professions along with members of the criminal justice system to work together to set up a system to effectively treat our homeless population. The state will also need to construct mental health and addiction centers throughout California. People in California need treatment options before they end up homeless as a result of addiction and/or mental health. In this multi-pronged approach, if a homeless person is arrested for a crime, they can choose treatment as opposed to going to jail. This may be the tool that forces people to enter treatment, eventually having a good quality of life, and being productive members of society.
The bottom line is, either you are in treatment or incarcerated, but you are not in our communities living on the street. I know this sounds like it is cost prohibitive but stop and look at how much homelessness is already costing California taxpayers. If you analyzed the total costs to communities, I think you would see that this approach could be cost effective in the long run.
During this time of isolation, having been locked down with kids out of school and some experiencing financial strain, I am concerned about our citizens who are suffering the effects of COVID-19. I am most concerned about women in abusive relationships who are particularly vulnerable during this time. Some victims are working from home with their abusers who are also home. This concerns me because when victims are able to go to work, they can confide in co-workers and friends, and signs of abuse are sometimes discovered by co-workers and reported to us. Our senior population is also at risk and need additional assistance. I need our community to keep an eye on each other. I feel a great responsibility for the safety of our community, and in these trying times, it is imperative that we all help take care of one another. If you need assistance and you have no one to call, please reach out to me directly so we can get you the assistance you need. My direct line is 925-809-7710.
The 71 sworn men and women who answer the call when you need them are my responsibility, and I don’t take that lightly. The police officers I have served with are some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to know. It pains me to see how they are being portrayed in the national media. We are at a critical time in law enforcement. Trust between police and segments of our society is very strained. The need to communicate and build relationships with all community members is more critical now than any other time in recent history. The Brentwood Police Department will never stop striving to become better in all aspects of serving our community. We will work to improve transparency, communication, technology, training, community relations, and whatever we are called upon to do. We have a clear understanding of the need to be open to change as societal norms change.
I know there are some who believe we do not need the police. I think most of us know what would happen if communities abolished their police departments. My police department employees, both sworn and professional staff, are under extreme pressures as a result of recent events in our country. Police staff members have reported that their family members have been harassed by others simply for having family members in the police profession.
We are seeing an increase nationwide in police officer suicides, depression, and post-traumatic related stress. I am very cognizant of this and we are working hard to have resources available for my personnel to utilize in the event they are experiencing these stressors. Police officers put their life on the line every day and stay ready to respond when called upon. At the end of their shifts, they just want to return home safely to their loved ones just like everyone else.
As I approach the end of my career in this great profession, I certainly worry about the future in policing. If the police profession continues to be disrespected and villainized in the way that I have seen in the media recently, I believe we will see a mass exit from the profession, and recruiting new officers will be extremely difficult. At the current time, I do not know of any police personnel that would encourage their children to enter police work. That will be the end of many generations of families who had long, proud, and successful careers in law enforcement. If and when that happens, departments will be forced to lower their hiring standards, only further compromising the integrity of the profession.
A police chief does not act autonomously. I have the outstanding support of Mayor Taylor, The City Council, City Manager Tim Ogden, and the wonderful community members of Brentwood. Robert Kennedy once said, “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.” I believe the City of Brentwood is the finest community in the State of California and they truly appreciate the work we do. I cannot thank our community enough for the strong support it continuously shows its police department. Their encouragement makes me proud to be the Police Chief of this great community! Our strong relationship did not happen overnight; it took decades to build, and as a result, has made us strong partners. In conclusion, it’s important to me that every citizen knows that when you pick up the phone and call for help, we will be there to provide the best police service for you and your family.
Photos by Melissa Van Ruiten