Police Accountability and Equal Access for Our East Bay Parks

The month of May brought both the tragedy of George Floyd's murder at the hands of police and the clear call that people, especially people of color and other marginalized communities, have lost confidence in the police. With these incidents in mind, I wrote the East Bay Regional Park District Board the following open letter. I want to ensure that our parks and open spaces are welcoming to people of color, and that our East Bay Regional Park District Police Department is committed to fair and racially just policing.

Re: Questions for the Park District Police Department

Dear President Corbett and Board Members Coffey, Echols, Lane, Rosario, Waespi, and Wieskamp:

I attended the June 4, 2020 board meeting via the audio link. The recent events beginning with the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, and are still taking place, have revealed just how much more America needs to do in order to overcome the deep racial problems that still plague this country. The past week has also demonstrated the failure of our president who once again revealed his school yard bully personality and his palpable fear and loathing of the American people.

I was glad to hear the statements of each of you expressing your sorrow at the death of Mr. Floyd and your expressions of hope for real change for racial justice and equality in this country.

We face a crisis in this country over how police forces do their job. Americans are asking deep and serious questions about police conduct and don’t only want words, they seek permanent corrective action. Each police department needs to respond.

The East Bay Regional Park District has a police force. In my hikes and walks in the regional parks I see a diversity of park users. Park users need to have, and should have, confidence that the Park District’s Police Department is ready to meet the call for action that people in the Bay Area and the United State are demanding. Perhaps the Park District Police Department already meets this challenge; but even if it has, the public should know how it has done so and whether changes or other actions should be taken.

Toward that end, I request the Park District to hold a public meeting via Zoom with the ability of people to appear on Zoom and express their views and where the Park District’s police chief provides at least the following information:

  1. What training has the police force has had over the past 5 years in responding to and handling service calls given the Bay Area’s diverse population?
  2. Assuming such training has taken place, how has the Park District ensured that its officers understand and are following that training?
  3. In the past five years have there been incidents or complaints of racial or other insensitivity in how the officers have handled or responded to service calls?
  4. If there have been such incidents, how have they been handled? [Here, I am not asking for names of officers, but sufficient information for the public to know what the Park District’s response was.]
  5. What protocols or procedures does the police force have for handling and responding to service calls that involve people of color, differently gendered, and people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds, for example?
  6. Does the Park District Police Department already ban the use of choke holds and knee holds such as we saw that caused the death of George Floyd? If not, will the Park District take action to ban such practices?
  7. How does the Park District make sure that new and lateral hires do not have a record of complaints about their handling of calls that would result in that person not being hired? What criteria does the Department use to determine whether to hire an officer with a record of complaints?
  8. What are the criteria for the removal of an officer from the force who is the subject of complaints about that officer’s handling of service calls?
  9. What is the current racial, gender, and ethnic composition of the force?
  10. What are the protocols or procedures for how to respond to a call that may be a false one or which raises suspicions that the caller is falsely accusing someone of criminal conduct? In this regard, given that there have been past incidents around the country where such calls have occurred where the caller is White or female and the alleged perpetrator is allegedly identified as an African-American male, what protocols exist for how the Park District Police Department handles such calls?
  11. What are the protocols and procedures for handling possible protests that may take place on Park District property and for deciding on the range of responses to different and potentially escalating protest situations? This is important to know because the Park District operates the McLaughlin East Shore State Park. The pedestrian overpass over I- 80 has often been used by protesters because of its high visibility and there is a potential spill over of such protests onto the Brickyard area of the State Park.
  12. What programs does the Park District Police Department have for engaging with and working with the diverse communities in the Bay Area especially youth?

There may be other questions, and I hope that in raising these questions other people may raise questions that I have missed. But this is a start. Depending on the outcome of this meeting, further meetings may or may not be required to address issues and concerns that come up.

I want to make it clear that I am not accusing the Park District police force of any misconduct. I just think the public needs to have the information about the force given the injustices and tragedies experienced across this country and the issues raised by the ongoing protests. My expectation and hope is that the Park District Police Department has answers to these questions, answers that reassure the public that it can trust that the Park District police are both well trained and that their record of conduct shows that what happened to Mr. Floyd and others does not and will not happen here.

I also ask that this meeting be video recorded. The Park District is one of the few agencies that still does not record and televise its meetings so they are available to watch at a more convenient time for people who cannot make the actual meeting. It would be valuable to have this meeting videoed so that people who cannot attend the meeting can have access to it and so that it can be archived for the future since I would expect the Park District to have periodic updates on the topics discussed at this meeting.

The Park District should also engage in a public outreach program to make people aware that the meetings on these topics will be held, and they should be held in the evening when they would be more accessible to people, especially working people.

Lastly, while currently the Park District meetings are not in-person meetings due to the pandemic crisis and Shelter-in-Place orders, at some point we should be able to go back to in-person meetings of the Board. Once the Park District can do that, it should hold meetings regarding the topics discussed in this letter in locations more accessible by BART and bus to the diverse communities that make up the Bay Area, like in Oakland, Fremont, Richmond, or Berkeley to name a few locations.

Thank you for your time and consideration to this serious matter.

Sincerely yours,
Norman La Force