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After Receiving Documents, Our Recommendations for Fullerton

Mindful Liberation Project has received the documents we requested from the Fullerton Police Department. We have been reviewing them, and I would like to go through these here today, express our concerns, and make some recommendations.

First up, Training, Section 418.6, Policy 418, .Fullerton PD Policy Manual, Adopted 02/14/2012

‘As a part of advanced office training programs, this agency will endeavor to include POST approved training on interaction with mentally disabled persons as provide by Penal Code § 13515.25.”

So let’s take a look at California Code § 13515.25.

Penal Code §13515.25 section (b) (stated as requirement by July 1, 2006)(http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/13515.25.html)

“The course described in subdivision (a) shall consist of classroom instruction and shall utilize interactive training methods to ensure that the training is as realistic as possible. The course shall include, at a minimum, core instruction in all of the following:
(1) The cause and nature of mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.
(2) How to identify indicators of mental disability and how to respond appropriately in a variety of common situations.
(3) Conflict resolution and DE-escalation techniques for potentially dangerous situations involving mentally disabled persons.
(4) Appropriate language usage when interacting with mentally disabled persons.
(5) Alternatives to lethal force when interacting with potentially dangerous mentally disabled persons.”

The penal code above seems to be comprehensive, and of good quality for guideline implementation in police department policies. Unfortunately, this kind of in-depth qualification is absent from being implemented in Fullerton policies, and is only referenced in regard to the types of training set forth.

In fact, in the 3 and a quarter pages of Policy 418, only two sections of policy regarding behavior during dealing with the mentally ill or disabled is discussed. Two. And they are extremely brief. One of them is what is outlined above, in section 418.6, the other is in section 418.3

418.3 Officer Considerations and Responsibilities
Any office responding to or handling a call involving a suspected
mentally disabled individual or an involuntary mental illness commitment should consider utilizing the following as time ans circumstances reasonably permit.

Ok, let’s hold on here. Reread that.

This is troubling. This policy apparently ONLY applies to “Mentally Disabled” individuals, not “Disordered” (which if you read the rest of the documents and California Penal Code, “Disabled” is someone with Alzheimers, etc, “Disordered” is differentiated as someone with a “mental illness,” whether this was intentional or by mistake, this is a huge problem) or an involuntary mental illness commitment. So, these sections DO NOT apply at all to someone who does NOT need to be committed (IE, not showing a tendency to harm others or self).

So what are these well functioning and non-crisis “Mentally Disordered” people being held from receiving? From receiving the following procedures, under Policy 418.3:

(a) Any available information that might assist in determining the cause and nature of the mental illness or developmental disability.
(b) Conflict resolution and De-escalation techniques.
(c) Language that is appropriate for interacting with a mentally
disabled person
(d) If circumstances permit, alternatives to deadly force.
(e) Any available community resources that can assist in dealing with a mentally disabled individual.

By their own policy, which was adopted after Kelly Thomas’s Death, his situation would still not be prevented. Not at all.

The rest of the documentation we received, is not policy, but rather training overviews: Screenshots of courses that are available for their officers, An information page for a course at a local college, a training exercise that spends half it’s time on “Mentally Disabled,” before getting briefly into the “Mentally Disordered,” and then references additional courses through the California POST commissions training

The only hopeful document, is unfortunately with a lack of references visible on the document to such an extent that I don’t even know how to refer to it, nor does it say when it was written, nor does it say if this is required for Patrol officers, though it does reference Crisis Intervention Team in the title.

Buried in that document, titled by view as “Hourly Distribution: Crisis Intervention Team Training 8 Hours (handwritten scrawl) OCT 13, 14, 18, 2011” does reference something very good. Something that if had been applied on that fateful July day, may have prevented Mr. Thomas’ Death.

From Lesson plan 3.2, De-escalation techniques

B. Tone
1. Its not what you say, its how you say it
2. Calm, firm demeanor
3. negative remarks or threats by consumers
4. non-confrontational
5. avoid impatience and/or condescension
6. patient, polite, truthful
7. encouragement

C. atmosphere
1. reduce distractions
2. calm the scene, lower radios, disruptive people
3. personal space is critical. do not crowd. increase space as needed.
4. avoid touching if possible

D. communication
1. Use first names if possible
2. One officer to speak
3. Use calm, slow, firm voice
4. Use simple directions
5. Repeat your commands/request as many times as necessary
6. Make sure the subject understands your directions
7. Build a sense of security

E. Problem Communication
1. Non-Responsive? Do not assume (or rush to act on the worst)
2. Make sure to use 30-second evaluation
3. Do not argue with expressed delusions
4. Help subject to feel safe
5. Help subject to focus on your voice
6. Ask subject what the voices are saying

F. Time
1. Be willing to take the time needed to safely complete call
2. Times is needed to process information
3. Goal is voluntary Compliance
4. Allows DE-escalation and venting
5. Rushing can lead to unplanned and violent response
6. Allows officer to disengage, reassess, make plan.

Unfortunately, the majority of these were not used with Mr. Thomas. And even more unfortunately, there isn’t any policy within the Fullerton PD to tie this kind of good training into their actual policies. Their policies tell you exactly how to return a confiscated firearm  (418.51) but not how to treat someone with a mental disorder that does not need commitment.

This is a huge gap in policy. And I believe we have seen the effects of this gap in the death of Mr. Thomas.


1. We believe the Fullerton police need to take a much more pro-active approach, instituting in their policies (418.3) De-escalation for both “Mentally Disordered” as well as “Mentally Disabled” individuals. If they have chosen to refer to “Mentally Disordered” differently than “Mentally Disabled,” by accident, they should address this in their documents, and ensure their training manuals use the same terms, and it is in accordance with the language in the State Penal Code.

2. We also believe the training that is given above in “Hourly Distribution: Crisis Intervention Team Training 8 Hours (handwritten scrawl) OCT 13, 14, 18, 2011” should be required of ALL officers, not just for crisis intervention teams or specialized groups, keeping in accordance with California Code § 13515.25.

3. The training referenced above in point 2 should also be instituted into Policy Manual 418, specifically the need for De-escalation, and that failure to use that when addressing those with both “Mental Disorders” and “Mental Disabilities” would mean a breach of policy.

4. Regarding document practices:
a) put their training documents into officially titled and identified forms, with dates of creation and revision, so that the public can reference them and know their date of origin
b) state on each document the specific type (patrol, specific team) of officers that receive this training
c) create a comprehensive list of all training officers receive regarding police dealing with citizens with mental health concerns

5. Realize, that while the abusive and escalating behavior of officers charged in Mr. Thomas’ death was the result of their own actions, that the Fullerton PD, through it’s lack of specific policy, and apparent lack of training, also bears the burden of Mr. Thomas’ death. And must take it as it’s ultimate responsibility, as an accredited police department in the state of California, and in the United States of America, to take each violation of its officers as one in which the department shares the burden, in both training to avoid situations like these, and in dealing with the community afterwards.

Moving Forward

Across the country, we have encountered many instances of officers engaging in unwarranted, and derogatory, escalating behavior with those who have mental health concerns. In most cases, we find that the police department itself has little policy to deal with this. As such, we view many of these incidents not as the sole result of individual behavior by officers, but of officers belonging to a department that has little policy in place to prevent it, or to advocate, with positive, prescriptive language, for De-escalation in the service and actions of and by it’s officers.

Until police departments accept these incidents as a failure of their departmental policy, we will continue to see these incidents occur. And that places all citizens as victims, under the weight of weak or non-existent policy.

We can change this in Fullerton. By adopting new policy and expanding training, the City of Fullerton can turn it’s police department into a positive model that other police departments, across California, and across the Nation, can aspire to.

We encourage Fullerton to be that pro-active model. And shift your department from one of law enforcement, back to the old model of “Officer of the Peace.”

Gary Llama
Mindful Liberation Project
Richmond, Virginia



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