Former cop & Antioch Police Crime Prevention Commissioner, now private investigator shares concerns about police reform ad hoc committee

Dear Editor:

Following is the letter I sent to the council.  My goal is to educate the council and have them conclude this ad-hoc commission is not needed.  Feel free to print this letter so the community can be educated also.

Dear Mayor and City Council,

My name is Jesse Zuniga, I moved to Antioch in 1989, from the inner Bay Area.  I served as a police officer for the City of Hayward between 1983 -1994.  In 1994, I lateraled to the City of Tracy where I served as a police officer until I retired in 2002.  I also served as an Antioch Police Crime Prevention Commissioner for two terms.  Since moving to Antioch, I have worked in partnership with our police department and city government to maintain a safe and clean community in order to improve the quality of life for our residents.  I have been a private investigator for nearly 20 years, and I serve as an independent panel investigator for the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC’s) Legal Defense Fund.  My firm provides independent and neutral legal investigations for PORAC’s legal defense fund when police officers are accused of misconduct or criminal behavior.  I travel throughout the state conducting such independent investigations.

I am aware of the “Ad Hoc Police Commission” that has been proposed by council members Lamar Thorpe, Monica Wilson and Thomas Smith, our city attorney.  I would like to provide you a summary of educational and valuable facts to consider before implementing a “police oversight commission.”

In my nearly 20 years of subcontracting as an independent investigator to PORAC’s legal defense fund, I have conducted hundreds of investigations involving first responders in both San Francisco (SF) and Oakland.  Both of these Bay Area cities have independent police oversight commissions.  I can attest to the fact that these oversight commissions are comprised of civilians and attorneys that have little knowledge about police practices.  Oversight police commissions are judging police officers’ tactics, practices, training policies and providing a sense of reform within their police organizations.  These commissions are often implementing policies and procedures that put the safety of first responder at high risk, because these policies conflict with state and federal laws and the California Peace Officers Standards and Training regulations.  Oakland PD was mandated by the Federal Court to implement a variety of reform procedures in the early 2000’s that led to officer deaths, following the infamous Oakland Riders trial and the establishment of new policies by their police oversight commission.

The California Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST), provides exemplary training and guidelines that conform with state and federal standards to keep officers and the community they protect safe.  The POST training standards and guidelines are also supported by State and Federal Law. Police chiefs and sheriffs implement rules, regulations, policies and procedures that conform to the POST training standards and State and Federal standards/laws.  Law enforcement agencies often submit their rules and regulations/policies and procedures to POST for review and approval by the POST commission.  POST also conducts frequent audits and provides oversight to each law enforcement agency;  the POST audit process is very strict.  The strict standards that a police agency must meet are being evaluated by professionals in the law enforcement field to ensure officer safety and the safety of their constituents.

My experience with the SF and Oakland oversight commissions has shown me that civilian oversight commissions often make decisions based on personal bias’ or perceptions instead of reviewing a situation objectively and adhering to the POST standards, state and/or federal law standards.  The personal, emotional and political decisions of oversight commissions have proven to be costly to their cities and detrimental to the safety of their law enforcement personnel.  Commissions make decisions to impose discipline upon officers based on personal feelings or agendas, which often violate the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights, the California Government Code, the agency’s policies and procedures and state and federal law.  The officers in question have the right to appeal the commission’s decision via an administrative proceeding or a court of law.  The expense of the appeal process is incurred by the city who imposes the discipline.  Frequently, the employee is reinstated by an administrative hearing officer/court judge.  Upon reinstatement, the city must make the employee whole by way of full reimbursement of lost earnings and benefits.  Because the administrative and court process can take years, the costs range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions per employee.   In many cases, the commission’s decisions will override the imposed legal disciplinary recommendation by a police chief or sheriff.  We saw this recently in Oakland.  The Oakland commission used a predetermined outcome regarding a police officer’s use of force, which was in conflict with the police chief’s recommendation.  The former Oakland police chief’s decision was based upon the POST standards, state and federal law standards.  The commission’s predetermined disciplinary outcome did not meet the legal standards; the commission attempted to strong arm the former Oakland police chief following the commission’s decision.  The chief’s refusal to violate departmental policy, along with state and federal law led to the unilateral commission decision to terminate the Oakland police chief.  The former chief has filed a lawsuit against the city of Oakland and if the chief is awarded compensation or the city coordinates a settlement agreement, either can prove costly to the city of Oakland.  Antioch’s city attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith was a member of the Oakland commission that terminated the Oakland Chief.  Mr. Lloyd has served on the Oakland oversight commission since October 2017 and his term expires in October 2020.  Mr. Lloyd has first hand knowledge of the adverse affects the Oakland oversight commission has had on the Oakland community and police department.

Poor political decisions by an oversight commission have negative affects on a police organization and will create low morale that will lead to an exodus of police officers.  The recruiting/hiring process and training new officers is costly.  Subsequently, applicants are less likely to seek a job opportunity where the city government and commission do not support their officers’ and community members’ safety.  Cities like Oakland and SF have been struggling for decades to retain qualified officers, therefore, those cities have lowered their hiring standards, which attracts less desirable applicants that cannot meet the strict hiring standards of other agencies.  Antioch has benefitted from the hiring of the experienced and highly qualified officers who have left Oakland, SF and Stockton due to the unsavory political climates created by their oversight commissions.  

A few years back, the Antioch Police Department suffered from poor political decisions.  The results of the poor political decisions led to officers leaving the Antioch Police Department to work for other Bay Area agencies where the officers were valued as professionals.  I have been involved in investigating several administrative police disciplinary matters within the Antioch Police Department.   I also have professional relationships with many current officers, some of which came from other police departments.   Recently, the Antioch Police Department’s morale has improved, community relations have improved significantly, community based policing has been implemented in a successful manner, and accountability within the police department is equal amongst the ranks.  Implementing an oversight police commission can diminish all of these positive gains.

I would like to provide a summary of checks and balances already in place, and to provide some educational facts regarding the 6 points outlined on your ad-hoc commission meeting agenda:

  1.  “Prevention of excessive use of force by police officers against members of the public, including banning police from using carotid artery restraints and chokeholds;”  The application of the carotid restraint is a technique that is only used in extreme circumstances where a combative suspect needs to be subdued because the suspect’s active resistance and the use of other techniques and or tools have proven to be completely ineffective.  The carotid restraint is rarely used and has proven to be effective when an officer’s life or community member’s life is at risk.  As with any technique or tool used, there can be negative implications.  Although the risk of death is present when applying the carotid restraint, statistics show that death as a result of the carotid restraint is very minimal and is not as lethal as discharging a firearm.
  2.  “Demilitirazation”, elimination of military equipment from the police department.  Police agencies nation wide have had to Implement military style equipment and tactics in order to match the military style weapons and military type body armor criminals posses and often use in mass school shootings, malls and places of worship.  In 1997, TWO bank robbers in North Hollywood armed with AK-47s were responsible for shooting multiple officers and citizens during the botched robbery.  The police officers carrying handguns were outgunned by the robbers.  The Los Angeles SWAT team was deployed and one suspect wearing body armor was shot 28 times before becoming disabled.  The 1997 North Hollywood incident created the nation wide implementation, demand and need of military style weapons and tactics by police in order toprotect law abiding citizens and law enforcement personnel.  It is not reasonable nor responsible to take police departments back to the days of carrying revolvers (which carry six bullets) while criminals are armed with AR-15’s, AK 47’s, or many other assault type weapons that can carry or fire 30, 50 or hundreds of bullets in seconds, or bullets that can pierce a typical police bullet proof vest or concrete walls.  The use of armored vehicles, military style weapons and military type protective gear is necessary to protect the police officers while they risk their lives protecting their communities.  Criminals engaging in violent assaults in a community while using military style weapons must be met with equal or superior tools to neutralize the threat.In 2009, four Oakland police officers were killed by one suspect who was armed with a military style weapon.  One officer was killed during a traffic stop and the other three officers were SWAT team members who were ambushed by the suspect.  Had the Oakland SWAT and the Alameda County SWAT team members not been equipped with the approrpiate military gear there may have been more officers or community members killed by one suspect.  Luckily, Oakland Police and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department SWAT teams and patrol officers were properly equipped and trained to neutralize such a violent suspect without further loss of life or harm to the Oakland community.   I am confident you would not want Antioch PD to suffer such a loss or be ill prepared to handle such a devastating and dangerous act of terror in our community.
  3.  “Required use of conflict de-escalation approaches by all sworn officers when interacting with the public”.  De-escalation tactics are taught and used everyday by police officers.  People must understand that when an officer implements his/her de-esclation tactics there are two critical points that need to occur for the de-escalation tactic to be successful.  First, the suspect has to mentally recognize the de-escalation process and second, the suspect has to agree and engage in the de-escalation process.  If the suspect refuses to recognize or engage in the de-escalation process then the de-escalation process is rendered unsuccessful and useless.  Once the de-escalation tactics are refused by the suspect, the officer must recognize the refusal and immediately implement other tactics to control the situation in order to protect the suspect, the officers or community members.
  4.  “Increased accountability, including the process of receipt and review public complaints against the police for excessive use of force, racial and/or ethnic profiling, and other police misconduct”.  California POST and the state and federal laws are already in place to seek accountability that is within the law.  The law already allows for a review of public complaints pertaining to the use of force or other personnel complaints.  This is called a “pitches motion” and it can be filed in court.  There is also a public records request process, however, there are legal standards implanted by the state and federal government that must be met by the police agency prior to releasing the information requested.  There are also legal standards for the reporting of racial and/ethnic profiling that must be met by a police agency.
  5.  “Improvement of police officer candidate recruitment, screening, training, and hiring practices including an analysis of policies concerning implicit bias, candidate diversity and candidate background checks; and” .  California POST has strict standards for the police hiring process.  Applicant have to pass a series of physical and medical exams, an intense multi phase psychological exam (which will expose the exact objectives you outlined), a polygraph exam, and an intense background check tho include behaviors that are seen from the time an applicant was a child to adulthood.  The criteria is so strict that most applicants fail the background, psychological exam or the polygraph, which disqualifies the applicant from proceeding with the hiring process.
  6.  “Police Department budget appropriations” . The police department manager/chief has checks and balances for the budget process.  The police budget is overseen and approved by the city manager, the city treasurer and ultimately the city council.

It is my hope that after reviewing the summary of information provided, you can agree that there are many substantive and strict legal checks and balances already in place.   If we are to seek equity and accountability, then let’s demand that of everyone, including those who engage in behavior that is detrimental to the safety of our community.  As council members you took an oath to represent all members of our community and your constituents.  Creating a police oversight commission will only increase costs and decrease safety for our police officers and our community.

Thank you for your consideration,

Jesse Zuniga, Jr.



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