Sebastopol OKs free trial for app to rate police interactions

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, July 23, 2021

seb police

Residents of Sebastopol may find themselves using an app-based platform Sebastopol Police Chief Kevin Kilgore compared to giving police Yelp reviews

The trial could last between three and four months, and the council authorized $2,000 from the budget adopted that night to round out the six to nine months of the fiscal year after the trial ends.

“When are we going to see this rolling out?” Councilmember Patrick Slayter asked at the council’s July 20 meeting, where it approved use of the app. Slayter said the platform impressed him and Mayor Una Glass during recruitment for a permanent police chief.

Kilgore said he hopes to get Open Policing in motion at the Sebastopol Police Department (SPD) before the end of the year. He introduced the Open Policing platform to the council and the community with co-founder Patrick Johnson.

Open Policing provides cards for police staff to give community members with codes to rate their encounter, whether it was a traffic stop or other in-person or phone interaction, according to Kilgore.

People may also receive a one-time code through text to give feedback, he said. The cards, available in English, Spanish and Korean so far, offer codes that cannot be reused multiple times.

“And that information is going up immediately to show how we’re scoring and what the overall score is,” Kilgore said, noting the scores are provided to SPD anonymously. None of the feedback is shown to the public until openpolicing.org can review it.

The Cloud-based platform uses measures to prevent fraudulent input and “an ability to report abusive feedback, to flag sensitive feedback for investigations,” Kilgore said.

When Councilmember Diana Rich asked whether reviewing comments before posting could lead to lowering negative comments, Kilgore said his understanding is they aren’t sorted that way but are assessed independently by openpolicing.org.

“But there is nothing that is removed from comments unless it’s abusive language or sensitive-matter language,” Kilgore said.

Johnson, an Open Policing co-founder, said, “Our platform does not allow the police department to delete feedback,” though the police can flag feedback with profanity, input that violates the terms of service or responses that are sensitive for investigation to be reviewed.

“But the police department cannot censor feedback. They can delay feedback, where they can say this feedback needs to be reviewed, but they cannot stop feedback from becoming visible to the public,” he finished.

Blanket statements, like “I hate the police,” would not be tolerated, for example, nor would threats to people’s lives or property, Kilgore said, as the platform’s intent is to gather public feedback in the context of their individual interactions with SPD staff.

The department cannot edit, delete or prevent comments from being published after they’ve been reviewed, Kilgore said.

Johnson said Open Policing tries to make giving input easier to reflect actual local experiences. According to the co-founder, other platforms gather community feedback without involving law enforcement or local government and veers toward negative feedback and cannot “invite feedback from positive interactions.”

Glass said she admired the safeguards protecting the data from either the public or the police department from trying to “game the system” so that both could get more accurate information.

“I appreciate all of the effort being put forward and I’m looking forward to hopefully some of the positive changes in our community,” Evert Fernandez said during public comment, as someone “born and raised in this community” where the Sebastopol police has had an unfriendly reputation.

The police chief said he further aspires to get the department website made over with a section solely for transparency so he can get new policies up for the community to see.

Councilmember Diana Rich shared a comment from attorney Jerry Threet voicing his support for the app and that Kilgore should be praised for the work.

Threet, a founder and former director of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), delivered his audit of SPD’s policies, practices, training and organizational culture on June 17 to the public.

Sebastopol police chief reports out movement made on audit recommendations

Kilgore announced that 96 of the 140 recommendations proposed in Threet’s review of the department have been assessed and carried out under interim police chief Don Mort and since he joined the SPD in March.

While the list is long, the auditor had expressed confidence in Kilgore to lead the department into better days.

The list of recommendations marked as in progress, completed and under review is available here. The police chief split the recommendations in progress into categories of short-term, mid-term and long-term.

Short-term goals he said he seeks to fulfill in three to five months include recommendations on use of force policies, reporting and review, body-worn camera policies and employee performance evaluations and training.

Progress on internal affairs investigation systems and community engagement are also coming up, he said.

Mid-term objectives that will take “approximately five to somewhere around eight, maybe 10 months,” include staff input on SPD operations, employee training, bias-free policing and body-worn camera policies, employee performance evaluations and processes for transparency and community feedback.

Within about eight to twelve months or longer, Kilgore said long-term goals relate to critical incident response policies, employee training, policies and practices regarding youth, bias-free policing and processes for independent civilian oversight.

“There are a lot of overlapping policies that are present, and again, as I’ve mentioned in previous meetings, this is a very heavy lift,” the police chief said.

Kilgore explained for Rich that “under review” indicates the need for further assessment to make a decision on the recommendation — what Rich summarized as finding “if and how the recommendations might be appropriately integrated into the police department.”

Some items are under review because the department is still focusing on short-term and mid-term goals, he said. Moreover, there may be part of overlapping recommendations that have been achieved while the part is in progress.

“While I do understand that many of them are also marked as something that’s going to go on for continual review, which is important, I think it’s a misnomer to call many of these things complete,” said Robert Edmonds. the vice chair of the past Community and Local Law Enforcement (CALLE) Task Force in attendance.

Among his concerns were that major community involvement is needed to ensure whether policies on use of force and body-worn cameras and practice of bias-free policing are complete.

Suzanne Lande said she views SPD as doing its best by downtown merchants and “recognizing some people’s only home is the vehicle they’re living in.”

The council lauded the police chief for his efforts. Noting the recommendations involve “continued review and assessment” and can’t just be checked off, Kilgore committed to keeping the community and the council informed on SPD’s progress and achievements.

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