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TRAFFIC STOP PRACTICES OF THE ISLETON POLICE DEPARTMENT

Subject of Investigation

Traffic stop practices of the Isleton Police Department.

Reason for Investigation

The Grand Jury received a complaint questioning the practices of the Isleton Police Department.

Method of Investigation

Members of the Grand Jury were assigned responsibility for reviewing the materials submitted by the complainant. Members reviewed the material submitted and requested policies and procedures from the Police Department to review. Two officers and the Chief of the Isleton Police Department were interviewed. The complainant was not initially interviewed as the complaint was resolved prior to the Grand Jury interviewing the Chief of Police.

The Grand Jury questioned whether or not this police activity was indicative of systemic problems. Was this a pattern and practice of the whole department and was a certain ethnic population the target of the practice? The Grand Jury began an investigation and conducted interviews with members of the community that substantiated that the initial complaint was not an isolated incident. Testimony heard related to eleven separate incidents.

Background

"Isleton, incorporated in 1923, with a current population of fewer than 900, is the smallest city within Sacramento County. As a general law city operating under the statutes of the State of California, it has an elected city council with five members." 1 The City has a non-salaried mayor and a salaried police chief with two full time officers and five reserve officers.
According to year 2000 census figures, the population is composed of 70% white, 1.5% African American, 1.5% American Indian, 10% Asian, and 17% other for a total population of 828. Those listing Hispanic Origin (of any race) totaled 223 or 27% of the total population.2
Prior Sacramento County grand juries have investigated the City of Isleton:

1998-1999 Policies and Procedures of the Police Department and City Government
1997-1998 Questionable Behavior Between a Police Officer and a Citizen
1994-1995 Administrative/Fiscal Problems
1991-1992 Policy/Procedure Manual - Isleton
1990-1991 Administrative Leave - Police Department
A detailed description of the above investigations and responses can be seen in previous Grand Jury Final Reports at the Central Library in the City of Sacramento or the Grand Jury web site at www.sacgrandjury.org.

Members of the Grand Jury reviewed the City of Isleton Police Department's Policy and Procedures Manual:

      Section 3.29 - Conversion of Property states:
      No member or employee shall convert to their own use, or have any claim in, any found property, recovered property or property held as evidence. The policy and procedures enunciated in Chapter 7 ((Discipline) shall be rigidly adhered to

      Section 3.47 - Radio Discipline states:

      All members and employees of the department operating the radio, either from mobile units or in the communications center, shall observe regulations for such operation as set forth in departmental orders and by the Federal Communications Commission.

      Departmental personnel are reminded that the City's radio system is an integral part of the daily operation of the department and it is essential that it be used in a totally professional manner. Other law enforcement agencies and numerous citizens monitor our nonscrambled traffic on a continuous basis, hence some thought must be given to the content of information routinely transmitted.

      It is imperative that members on duty remain in contact with the dispatcher. Whenever leaving a unit, members shall notify dispatch of their location, and remain in contact through use of a portable radio or cellular telephone if available.

      Section 3.48 - Location Identification (10-20)

      It is the official policy of this department that personnel responding to all initial radio calls will provide their current location. Generally recognized landmarks will be used. A sped location is required. This policy also applies to dispatched request for "10-20".

      Section 13.00 - Impounding, Towing, Search, and Inventory of Vehicles

      The Fourth Amendment to the US. Constitution states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searched and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. "

      The Fourth Amendment's applicability to vehicles is beyond question. The Supreme Court decided this in Preston v. United States.

      Officers are to take note of certain liabilities involved and make sure that when making a seizure of a vehicle, that it is done with common sense, reasonableness (as provided in the Preston us. US case) and within the scope of his authority and code provisions.

      Courts have held that Citizens should be allowed to make disposition of their vehicles when:

        1. The driver or owner is on the scene.
        2. In the officer's judgment, the subject is capable of making such a disposition.
        3. Said disposition does not interfere with the case or create a traffic problem.
        4. When there is an alternative to letting other responsible persons drive the car away with the permission of the owner or person in charge of the vehicle.
        5. Permitting the car to be left at the scene if it is legally parked or can be legally parked.
        6. Waiver of protection by the driver (release of liability form) commonly used by many agencies.

      When it comes to impounding, towing, searching, and taking inventory of vehicles, they must be done under the following provisions:

      ALL SEIZURES AND SEARCHES MUST COMPLY WITH THE FOURTH AMENDMENT.

      NON- EVIDENTIARY SEIZURES OF VEHICLE MUST CONFORM TO THE DUE PROCESS RIGHTS OF THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT

      Officers are to use caution in this area. A violation of a vehicle owner's constitutional rights, under the aforementioned amendment, will surely subject himself and the agency in a deep pocket civil rights suit under the theory of conversion or illegal deprivation of property.
      Accordingly, Officer will read and become familiar with the following:

      CHP Form 180, Vehicle Report Chapter 10, of the Vehicle Code. 22650 through 22661

      Officers are urged to keep in mind the impact of vehicle seizures, the cost and hardship it may cause some persons in given situations. On the other hand, officers can use the authority to seize and store as an effective enforcement action.

      Section 6.16 - Procedures for Handling Property

      I. CLASSIFICATION OF PROPERTY

        A. EVIDENCE: Property which may be related to a crime or which may implicate or clear a person of a criminal charge.
        B. FOUND PROPERTY. Non-evidentiary property which, after coming into the custody of the agency, has been determined to be lost or abandoned and is not known or suspected to be connected with any criminal offense.

      C. PROPERTY HELD FOR SAFEKEEPING. Non-evidentiary property which is in the custody of the agency for temporary protection on behalf of the owner.

      H. PROCEDURES FOR DEPOSITING PROPERTY
      1. The employee shall, in every instance, place all property, obtained in the course of his or her employment, in the agency's property system, prior to going off duty. In no instance shall an employee store property in a personal locker or other unauthorized locations.
      2. The employee shall prepare a follow-up report, miscellaneous event report, etc. (describing how, what, when, where, he or she came into possession of the property) as well as a Property Record/Receipt.

          a. Except for items that are placed in a marked evidence container, upon which is a facsimile of the property stamp has been placed, the employee shall also prepare a Property Tag and attached it to the property item.

      3. The employee shall make appropriate inquiries to the National Crime Information Center and the State Department of Justice computer, regarding serialized or identifiable items of property, to determine if the property is reported stolen.
      4. Special Handling Procedures

          a. The employee shall place small property items, together with the Property Record/ Receipt, in a temporary storage property locker.
          b. The employee shall arrange that the Chief of Police examine money, valuables, and narcotics, and witness the placement of the property in an evidence container and the sealing and deposit of the container in a temporary storage property locker.
          c. The employee shall deposit large items (such as bicycles, tires, etc.) in a storage shed or designated area. On occasion, valuables or large items of property, e.g., valuable property or property items that should not be tampered with or that need further processing, may be placed in the property room.

            1. The employee shall secure such items left in the storage building, with a chain and padlock whenever possible.

      WITHDRAWAL AND RETURN OF PROPERTY, GENERALLY
      A. Withdrawal:

      1. Property may be temporarily withdrawn from the property storage area for:

        a. Inter-agency reasons (e.g., for purposes of identification), or
        b. Inter-agency reasons (e.g., for laboratory examination or use in court).

      B. Return

      1. Return of property, as used in this order, means return to the custody of the Chief of police or designee, or established storage area.

      WITHDRAWAL OF PROPERTY
      A. Personnel authorized to withdraw property:

      1. Only the employee assigned to investigate a case or an employee authorized by the Chief of Police is permitted to withdraw property.

      B. Procedures for the withdrawal of property

        1. The following procedures shall be completed in all instances:

        a. An authorized employee of this agency shall sign his or her name on the back of the Property Record/Receipt form beside each item that is withdrawn.
        b. The Chief of Police shall note in the spaces provided on the back of the Property Record/Receipt form the item number, destination, date and time, and shall sign his/her name beside each item that is withdrawn.

      RETURN OF PROPERTY

      A. Procedures for the Return of Property

        1. Property withdrawn from the property storage areas, but not retained at its destination, shall be returned to the property system as follows:

          a. The person returning the property shall sign his or her name in the space provided on the Property Transfer form, and shall place the returned property, together with the Property Transfer form, in a temporary storage property locker.

      DISPOSAL OF PROPERTY
      I. DISPOSAL OF PROPERTY, GENERALLY

        A. Authorized Methods of Property Disposal

          1. Return to owner or finder
          2. Sale
          3. Agency or other public use
          4. Destruction

        A. Procedures applicable to all Methods of Property Disposal:

          1. No item of property held by the agency shall be disposed of in any manner until a Property Release authorization form is prepared, containing the Chief of Police's signature of approval and listing disposal instructions.

          a. Property Release Authorization forms shall be prepared by the employee handling the case where a person has been arrested upon receipt of the Disposition of Arrest and Court Action (JUS8715) form which indicates a final disposition of the case; or

                1. When there are two or more defendants involved, property shall not be disposed of until all defendants' trials have been conducted.
                2. Property shall not be disposed of until the period for appeals has closed and all appeals have been concluded.

      RELEASE OF PROPERTY

      A. Following receipt of an approved Property Release Authorization form, a Property release Notice form will be mailed to the owner of the property ....

        B. Property shall be released to the owner only after the owner has:

          1. Provided satisfactory proof of ownership; presented proper personal identification; and signed the declaration of ownership on the Property Release Authorization Form....

Members of the Grand Jury compared the policies and procedures for the City of Isleton Police Department with another law enforcement agency in Sacramento County. It appears to be a common departmental policy and practice in the jurisdiction reviewed, that officers be in radio, pager or cellular contact while on duty, except in extraordinary circumstances. For traffic stops, the usual practice is to send vehicle license numbers to central communications (dispatch) by computer or over radio communication and to wait for verification that the vehicle is stolen or not, before the officer leaves his or her car to issue a citation.

Members of the Grand Jury heard testimony from eight individuals who related eleven separate incidents alleging improper police activity. Allegations were made that these incidents were far more pervasive than the eleven told to the members of the Grand Jury and were targeted towards minorities, especially non-English speaking Hispanics.

Witnesses told the Grand Jury members individuals were left to walk miles along the levee road to the nearest pay telephone, after being cited for driving without a valid driver's license and having their vehicle towed. The danger at night to such a person, if he or she were to be injured, creates a liability to the City of Isleton that could be avoided. if the officer transported the individual to the nearest pay telephone or offered the use of the officer's cellular telephone.

Members of the Grand Jury were told that in order for these persons to retrieve their property, they first had to see the Chief of Police during normal business hours to receive his written approval in order to release their property. They then had to return to the Police Department on a weekend when the part-time reserve officer who controlled the evidence locker was on duty, and present the written authorization to release their property. The Chief of Police and this part-time officer were the only two in the department with keys to the evidence locker.

Conclusions

Staying in radio or telephone contact while on duty is paramount to the officer's safety. If an officer were to be injured in such a situation, the police department would be unable to assist because his or her location is unknown.

Failure to stay in contact increases the opportunity for officer misconduct and the chance for so called "ghost stops." which occur when an officer fails to notify the central communications center that he or she is stopping or detaining a vehicle. If an officer fails to contact the central communications center on the initial stop, and then fails to issue a citation, there is no record to validate that the stop ever occurred.

Findings and Recommendations

Finding # 1: The City of Isleton Police Department has in place adequate policies and procedures that require an officer to maintain radio or telephone contact with the central communications center (dispatch).
Recommendation # 1: The City of Isleton, Chief of Police, shall enforce the Policy and Procedures, Section 3.47 on Radio Discipline and Section 3.48 on Location Identification.

Finding #2: Isleton police officers failed to remain in contact with the central communications center (dispatcher).
Recommendation #2: The City of Isleton, Chief of Police should adopt as departmental policy, the practice of calling in vehicle license numbers to the central communications center and waiting for the reply (verification that the vehicle is either reported stolen or not), before the officer exits his or her patrol car. This should be a routine practice. Extraordinary circumstances would be the exception.

Finding #3: The Grand Jury heard testimony that at least two motorists, after being stopped and cited for driving without a valid drivers license, had their vehicle towed and impounded, and were left on the levee road to walk approximately three miles to the nearest pay telephone.
Recommendation #3: The Isleton Police Department should ensure the safety of persons cited and left without means of transportation, when their vehicle is towed and impounded. This may mean they will have to drive them to the nearest pay telephone or allow them to use their cellular telephone.

Finding #4: Nine of the eleven incidents alleging improper police activity involved persons with Hispanic sounding surnames.
Recommendation #4: The City Council of Isleton should consider contracting for or creating an office of ombudsman, or some type of civilian oversight committee, to monitor police activities, investigate and recommend corrective measures to the Chief of Police, and report to the City Council.

Finding #5: The City of Isleton, Chief of Police, by assigning a reserve, part-time officer to control the evidence locker and the property storage locker area, created a hardship on persons forced to reclaim their property on a weekend.
Recommendation #5: The City of Isleton, Chief of Police should assign a permanent, full-time officer the responsibility of controlling the evidence locker during the times other city offices are open to the public.

Response Required

Penal Code Section 933.05 requires that specific responses to both the findings and recommendations contained in this Report be submitted to the Presiding Judge of the Sacramento Superior Court by September 30, 2001, from:

      · Chief of Police, City of Isleton
      · City Council, City of Isleton

       

       

1 Sacramento County 1994-1995 Grand Jury Final Report, June 30, 1995, p. 15

2 Census 2000 Public Law 94-171 Population by Race and hispanic Origin, Redistricting Data, SACOG REGION


 
2000/2001 Sacramento County Grand Jury - Final Report (Internet Version) June 30, 2001

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