In the wake of the national conversation sparked by the death of George Floyd — a Black man killed while in Minneapolis police custody in May — Atherton police Chief Steve McCulley gave a presentation to the City Council at its July 1 meeting about the police department's use-of-force policy.
Notably, McCulley said that the Atherton Police Department has modified its policy for using chokeholds and carotid restraints — they are now only to be used in cases when the officer's life is endangered.
Floyd's death has focused attention on police Officer Derek Chauvin's use of restraint during arrest — pressing a knee to the back of Floyd's neck for approximately 8 minutes, as well as keeping Floyd lying on his stomach.
The change brings Atherton Police Department into concordance with an executive order from the Trump administration released in June, which recommends banning chokeholds except in life-threatening situations.
"The death of George Floyd on May 25 of this year while in police custody was tragic and disturbing, especially to those of us leaders in law enforcement," McCulley said. "My sincere hope is that out of the tragedy something positive occurs."
McCulley said that the Atherton police have been amending policies for many years.
"Reform isn't new," he said. "In September 2019, Gov. Newsom approved Senate Bill 230, which provides the most stringent deadly use of force law in the country."
McCulley said that Atherton Police Department "has developed a series of use-of-force principles to improve community relations while balancing the safety of our officers and the community we serve."
"When it comes to force, when it comes to de-escalation, we always train using the least amount of force necessary," he said.
McCulley described the tools the department uses to monitor officers. "We were the first agency in this county to have body cameras ... I wear one. We were also the first to use in-car video," he said.
The police chief reviewed five years' worth — 2014-19 — of Atherton Police Department statistics. Data kept by the department shows 55,000 calls for service and 300 arrests. "In those five years, there were no uses of force by our officers," he said. "That's almost unheard of."
During that time, there were six citizen complaints about officers, but all cases were determined to be unfounded or the officer was exonerated. The last officer-involved shooting was in 1979, McCulley said.
In a staff report, McCulley explained the department's vetting of newly hired officers. "Our officers are selected after a rigorous hiring process which involves a comprehensive background check as well as an intensive psychological examination," he wrote. "Once hired, our officers are periodically trained and tested in use of force policy knowledge as well as their ability to use force techniques in a lawful, competent manner."