Community Concerns About Law Enforcement in Sonoma County

Chapter 5


Effective police-community relations requires ongoing communication and the willingness for all parties to listen, agree or disagree civilly, and compromise. The Advisory Committee offers these recommendations in an effort to foster the dialogue among community representatives, elected officials, and law enforcement in Sonoma County and to assist in the elimination of the community polarization found during its study.


The Advisory Committee found that the racial composition of the different law enforcement agencies generally reflects the population of Sonoma County. However, these statistics are based on the 1990 census whose data are now more than 9 years old. The Advisory Committee found negligible representation of race, gender, and language diversity at middle and upper levels of the departments.

Recommendation 1.1 The departments must continue efforts to increase gender and ethnic diversity within their ranks.

Recommendation 1.2 The departments must increase efforts to add language diversity personnel to their sworn and civilian ranks.


Although all departments offered training on cultural diversity and domestic violence, and some provided training in dealing with suspects under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the Advisory Committee found the training to be limited in scope and hours.

Recommendation 2.1 The departments should increase training on cultural diversity using a broad-based, unified, and comparative approach.

Recommendation 2.2 The departments should increase training in the handling of domestic violence situations.

Recommendation 2.3 The departments should increase training in the handling of suspects who may be experiencing a psychiatric, drug, or alcohol episode.

Recommendation 2.4 The departments should increase training to assist officers in diffusing situations and de-escalating violence. The departments should encourage and expand the use of mediation techniques.

Recommendation 2.5 City officials should ensure commitment from law enforcement command structure for alternatives to the use of deadly force and provide resources to the departments for implementation.

Recommendation 2.6 The departments should continue and expand the citizen academies to increase the awareness of the role and realities of modern policing among community members.

Critical Incident Investigations

The Advisory Committee found a community that did not trust law enforcement investigations of use of force incidents and whose perception was that district attorney investigations were not independent. It is imperative that an independent review be conducted of each critical incident involving deadly force by a law enforcement officer.

Recommendation 3.1 The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and individual city councils should make it mandatory that a noninvolved police agency do the investigation of a critical incident anywhere in the county.

Recommendation 3.2 The Office of the District Attorney should ensure that it does its own investigation of all critical incidents.


The Advisory Committee found the community had lost confidence in the complaint process offered citizens by the law enforcement departments. Although each department has a commendation and complaint pamphlet/form, it was unclear whether these were readily available. The community perception was that filing a complaint was intimidating, discouraged, and if filed, the process took significant time and did not lead to satisfactory resolution. The departments provided data which demonstrated that sanctions had been imposed on officers found to have transgressed.

Recommendation 4.1 All departments must ensure that complaint and commendation forms are available at all times and can be easily found.

Recommendation 4.2 To eliminate the perception of intimidation, the law enforcement unit receiving complaints should be housed in a separate location away from the department’s headquarters.

Recommendation 4.3 A civilian employee of the department should be the individual who initially receives the complaint.

Recommendation 4.4 The Office of the District Attorney should publicize that it also will receive complaints regarding law enforcement.

Recommendation 4.5 Complaints should be investigated in a timely fashion, and periodic reports to the complainant noting the status should be made.

Recommendation 4.6 The final report to the complainant should be as detailed as possible within personnel, privacy, and legal guidelines.

Recommendation 4.7 The departments should establish a victim assistance position to track the status of domestic violence allegations and case progress and to ensure that all applicable laws, including mandatory arrest (if a temporary restraining order is violated) are being enforced.

Recommendation 4.8 The members of municipal city councils and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors should increase their oversight of the law enforcement entities representing their cities and the county, respectively.

Policy Issues

The various law enforcement departments have numerous policies and procedures for their operations and for handling diverse situations. The Advisory Committee heard allegations that some of these policies, in particular those aimed at domestic violence, were not always followed. The Advisory Committee believes those advocates who alleged that domestic violence calls required greater sensitivity and strict adherence to the law.

The number of police shootings indicates that the polices on use of force should be revisited to incorporate mediation techniques and less violent methods of resolving a critical incident.

Recommendation 5.1 Departments should review internal policies regarding domestic violence perpetrated by a law enforcement officer to ensure compliance with applicable law and to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. This should not be an internal affairs matter.

Recommendation 5.2 The Office of the District Attorney should consider the adoption of a policy regarding police officers charged with and convicted of domestic violence.

Recommendation 5.3 The departments should review their use of force policies to expand the use of alternatives to deadly force in appropriate situations.

Recommendation 5.4 The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department should review and revise its sexual harassment policy to eliminate the double jeopardy reporting feature that currently negatively affects its female officers.

Recommendation 5.5 The sheriff’s department, with the input of the Sonoma County Law Enforcement  Chief’s Association, should establish a special unit to respond countywide to situations where the suspect or victim may be experiencing a psychiatric episode.

Recommendation 5.6 The Chief’s Association should consider the addition of at least one non-law enforcement community member to its organization.

Review Board

The Advisory Committee recommends that the various municipalities in Sonoma County begin the dialogue to determine if their jurisdiction requires the creation of a civilian review board. The dialogue should be inclusive of all citizens and each community can consider the appropriateness and merits of such an entity and the elements that are required to ensure success. While each community needs to decide whether to have a review board and how it should operate, certain characteristics are necessary for its success.

The Advisory Committee does not believe that a countywide board will suffice nor should the grand jury, due to its association with the office of the district attorney and its closed door meetings, be used as the vehicle for civilian review of law enforcement.

Recommendation 6.1 The Advisory Committee believes that the cities of Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa and the county sheriff require the immediate creation of civilian review boards.

Recommendation 6.2 The Advisory Committee does not believe that the grand jury is the appropriate body to act as a civilian review board for the county or for individual jurisdictions.

Recommendation 6.3 The Advisory Committee recommends that among their characteristics the civilian review boards created should have budgetary independence, separate office locations, conduct independent investigations, have the power to compel police officer testimony, provide an appeal process, and report directly to elected officials and the community in open session.