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The El Paso Police Department can’t account for more than half the internal reports it says are regularly conducted to track performance, according to documents obtained by El Paso Matters through the Texas Public Information Act.
El Paso Matters filed multiple open records requests with the Police Department for lists of administrative reports and audits designed for accountability within the department. When a follow-up open records request for specific reports from the list was filed, the city said it had no such reports.
Asked about the discrepancies, police officials initially said that a different department handles reports. When El Paso Matters asked city public information officers, they said that the Police Department would have to address the issue.
City and police officials ultimately declined to answer El Paso Matters’ questions about the discrepancies after multiple attempts for clarification. Police officials directed El Paso Matters to file additional open records requests.
The El Paso Police Department Procedures Manual contains a list of 33 administrative reports the agency says it conducts, including use of force analysis, racial profiling, evidence room inventory, critical incident reports and personnel early warning system analysis.
El Paso Matters filed an open records request for the most recent report for each of the 33 reports listed in the procedures manual. The city provided a list of 12 with completion dates in 2020 — less than half of the listed reports. The document did not include any dates for when the remaining reports were last completed.
Stan Stanbridge, Texas Police Chiefs Association president and police chief of the San Marcos Police Department, said reports and audits conducted by police departments serve to ensure internal accountability.
“The reason departments do those types of internal reviews is to first and foremost identify commendable behavior that needs to be recognized by the agency,” Stanbridge said.
Stanbridge said the reports also identify training deficiencies, help identify any policy misconduct and have an accompanying recommendation for corrective action or discipline if necessary.
“You will find that most progressive police departments have some form of internal review structure,” he said.
Stanbridge said various reports serve to evaluate the internal efficacy of a department and can help to determine whether officers have experienced acute and chronic trauma, which in some instances can be correlated with officer misconduct and excessive force.
“We do the internal processes because we need to be accountable. We want to foster legitimacy and trust,” Stanbridge said.
The reports the El Paso Police Department ran in 2020, according to documents obtained by El Paso Matters, include analyses of use of force, pursuit critique, after action report for critical incidents, evidence and property inventory, bias based profiling report and an internal affairs statistical summary.
Not included from the list of reports, or the dates for when they were last completed, were police department personnel needs, crime prevention analysis, computer system audits, workload assessment analysis and personnel early warning system analysis, according to the documents.
Personnel early warning systems
El Paso Matters, out of the master list of reports, requested the personnel early warning system analysis for the last three years. The city’s open records department said it had no responsive documents.
San Antonio police Lt. Jesse Salame, who manages that department’s records unit for the public information office, said early personnel warning systems allow police departments to monitor officers who may be headed down a bad path and try to intervene before disciplinary action needs to be taken.
The SAPD runs an annual evaluation analysis report on the program.
Salame said the report typically includes how many officers were referred to the program, how many needed to be referred to counseling, to be reassigned and various other metrics to evaluate whether the program is working and which interventions are effective.
“There’s little things you can do and sometimes just letting people know that you’re monitoring their behavior or giving them some help, if that’s what they need,” Salome said. “(It’s getting) them back on the right path to where they’re not going to stray and do something egregious that’s going to put the department in a bad light or put their career in jeopardy.”
Salame said some of the behaviors that would be monitored under the program would be the frequency of absences, diminished performance, or multiple use of force incidents, among others.
The most recent policing debate in El Paso and across the country was triggered by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest in May. The incident sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and calls for reform as well as the defunding of police departments.
The El Paso Police Department has been under scrutiny following multiple lawsuits that allege deadly force, incidents of excessive force and possible racial profiling.
In response to the nationwide concerns, El Paso leaders passed a resolution in June that “seeks to encourage the elimination of racial disparities and improve law enforcement interactions” and called for a review of use-of-force policies and racial profiling data.
The “comprehensive plan” city executive leadership staff began working on in the fall does not mention an effort to reform the Police Department, but rather, seeks to encourage “the elimination of racial disparities and improve law enforcement interactions.”
Critics of the plan have said the effort falls short of what is needed for the department.
The “cross-functional team” composed of various city staff gave the City Council its first presentation Monday.
The team discussed training for police officers in 2021 that will include additional mental health training such as 40 hours of crisis intervention team training for up to 70 officers offered quarterly, and eight hours of de-escalation training for 70 officers offered quarterly. Other training focuses include crowd control training, civil unrest tactics training and active shooter response training.
The team is also looking at partnerships with Fort Bliss for use of its small arms ranges, tactical villages and virtual training facilities.
City officials said there is also an effort to expand its youth programming by establishing a youth advisory board.
The reports that the cross-functional team are having evaluated by outside firms are EPPD racial profiling data and use of force and deadly force incidents.
There was no mention during the presentation as to whether the team or an outside firm will be evaluating the police department’s policies and procedures regarding internal accountability reports.
Stanbridge said that while many people perceive that law enforcement is not in favor of police reform, many Texas police chiefs recognize that the profession must change.
“We embrace changes that reflect wisdom and are collaborative and that have both external and internal focus, because we recognize that there are two sides to every coin,” Stanbridge said. “I say that intentionally because many perceive law enforcement is circling the wagons and saying ‘no’ to comprehensive police reform. It’s just the opposite.”