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No future agenda item planned for Escondido police oversight

ESCONDIDO – After an officer-involved shooting back in April that resulted in the death of Steven John Olson, a 59-year-old homeless man, the city of Escondido experienced a renewed push for police oversight from community activists.

But that won’t be happening any time soon.

Escondido Police Chief Ed Varso told The Coast News that there is no future agenda item planned for the Escondido City Council to consider a police oversight committee at this time.

Varso added that with a new incoming city manager, it is possible the department and the council will revisit the issue at a later date.

The last time the council discussed police oversight was in October of 2020, but the issue was not up for a motion or a vote so the council did not reach a consensus on an approach to take.

“You can support law enforcement, support public safety and support transparency,” Councilwoman Consuelo Martinez said at the October meeting. “Creating some type of board… is the right thing to do, it’s the transparent thing to do, it’s the timely thing to do.”

The demand for a police oversight committee escalated in Escondido after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota last year, along with a push for stronger de-escalation policies and cuts to the police budget.

So far, only one of those demands has been met. In March, the Escondido Police Department created a standalone de-escalation policy.

The policy calls for officers to gather all of the information they can before entering a potentially tense situation. It also says that officers should use tactics to lower the intensity during these encounters.

Officers are called to stay calm, listen to the individual in question and use clear and concise language.

If necessary, officers can even disengage, or walk away from a situation, as long as the person isn’t a threat to others.

This is the first stand-alone de-escalation policy the department has created.

When it comes to the city’s police budget, it has seen a steady increase over the past several years.

The city’s budget for the fiscal year 2021/22 includes a $2.7 million increase in the city’s police budget from last year, bringing it to more than $49 million.

The recent officer-involved shooting was one of several in the city over the past couple of decades.

A review of public records by the Union-Tribune last year revealed that 217 people died at the hands of county-wide law enforcement over the last 20 years, and 12 of them were in Escondido. Nine of those deaths occurred between 2001 and 2011.