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Escondido Police Chief says department making progress on reform

ESCONDIDO – The Escondido Police Department alongside the City of Escondido says they have been working on improving their policies and procedures for the past few months after incidents of police brutality across the nation sparked widespread outrage back in May.

Police departments nationwide have been in the spotlight since the deaths of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minn. and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Louisville, Ky., sparking numerous protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Residents have since been demanding police reform from city and county governments, including in Escondido. Many residents even called on the city to divest funds from police and reallocate them to non-police forms of public safety, such as social services and other community resources.

Back in June, Escondido Police Chief Ed Varso, who took over as chief in January 2020, said that new policies and training programs were in the works.

Now, Varso says reform is well underway.

“We’re working through the final stages now of expanding de-escalation within our existing policies, and that expansion also includes some community input as well,” Varso said. “My goal is to have the finalized policy on that before the end of the year.”

Varso added that all of the department’s police officers also recently completed additional de-escalation training as part of a countywide initiative by the district attorney’s office.

The department is also undergoing implicit bias training starting this week. Varso told The Coast News that the training will be led by Cal State Long Beach’s criminal justice department. He expects all officers to complete the training by January 2021.

“Escondido is a diverse community, and even though I don’t see a problem in how we police – I don’t believe that we have officers that are targeting any members of our community based solely on anything other than criminal behavior – I think it’s important for us to understand community perspective, and it makes us better at what we do, it makes us better at communicating with the public and taking the time to listen to community concerns,” Varso said.

He also said that the department recently updated their Duty to Intervene Policy, which requires that, if a police officer saw some sort of act of excessive force, they have an obligation by policy to intervene and do something about it.

The department has also started a one-day recruitment seminar specifically for applicants that live in Escondido or are from Escondido.

“I think it’s important to hire people that have experience here, that have grown up here and it’s their hometown,” Varso said. “We can’t only hire candidates from Escondido because the demand for officers is greater than the number of local applicants, but I think we should certainly be doing something to help promote within our community as much as possible.”

Though there has been some discussion at the city level regarding the possibility of a police oversight committee, Escondido City Manager Jeffrey Epp told The Coast News that further discussions on police oversight at the City Council level will not occur until after the new council is seated (the installation ceremony will take place on Dec. 9).

Policies and procedures of the Escondido Police Department can be found at https://police.escondido.org/.

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