You Biased? Maybe!

Jeff Thomas, a choir singer, stood on a corner holding a choir robe slung over his shoulder, while waiting for a ride. An EPD officer checking the area for a man who just fled from the Sheriff’s office saw Jeff standing there. The suspect was described as a black man in his 40s. Jeff is a black man in his 60s. The officer spotlighted and approached Jeff to see if he was the wanted suspect.

Jeff said, the officer was polite and respectful even calling him sir. Jeff was upset but civil in his response. Two days later Jeff and I met to discuss the encounter. His question for me, if I was white would this officer have stopped me? He was clear he did not want to see the officer punished, but rather use this incident as an opportunity to talk about race, and to improve the police-community relationship. Jeff’s maturity and grace were remarkable.

The officer genuinely felt Jeff could have been the suspect. Although choir robes and age might have been a good clue that Jeff was not the suspect. In my opinion, we could have used better judgment and more discretion in the contact. We also could have approached Jeff in a non-threatening manner, such as, “Headed to church tonight?” Alternatively, “I am looking for Joe Doe, have you seen him?”

Implicit bias is a conflict that plays out daily across America and Eureka. Here is a hard reality each of us must face; we are bias. Implicitly or overtly, we are biased. Bias hurts those who are the target of this predisposition. Our institutions, laws and policies further that bias, recycling and reinforcing beliefs that hurt those singled out different than the traditional American norm. A norm that has changed. For America to heal as a nation we must change, and systems must change.

This week my wife stood in the merchandise return line at Target. Generally speaking Target has a very liberal return policy. A young and pregnant Latina stood in line in front of Cathy. She held several baby items to return. Baby shower Cathy thought, there must have been double gifts. When the girl got to the front of the line to return her gifts, the store clerk denied her return. The clerk was kind, professional and almost apologetic, but she stood firm on company policy. The girl pled with her, was registered at the store, and willing to take a gift card. The answer was firm. No.

Next came the big question…do you have a driver’s license? I can return these items if you have a license. The pregnant girl slumped in embarrassment. No, I don’t have a license. Well, I need a license to take it back. Cathy interrupted and asked for the girl’s property. Cathy took out her license and asked to return the items. She got the refund and handed it to the girl. I understand Target’s policy, as thieves often do not have a license, but the impact of implicit bias on a culture of immigrants, many who do not drive, is devastating.  No one said or claimed that she was or was not a citizen or legal resident.

California state regulations (POST) demands that police applicants must have a decent credit score to be hired. The reasons are to guard against corruption and ensure the person is responsible and paying their bills. I was asked at a workshop what policies do you have that eliminate people of color from being hired? That rule immediately came to mind. Many people of color live in or grew up in poverty. They have not had the opportunity to establish credit or are too busy surviving to worry about it. Parents living in poverty cannot bail kids out when over extending on their first college credit card.  How do we collectively fix this problem of implicit bias? EPD has adjusted its policy on a case by case basis.

Here is EPD’s plan to move forward and reduce implicit bias.

  1. Become more aware of implicit bias. Each officer will take Harvard implicit bias test.
  2. Bring in those who can instruct us about implicit bias and learn to reduce it.
  3. Eliminate or change policies that are inherently bias.
  4. Continue to work in partnership with communities who experience bias regularly.
  5. Hold the organization accountable for our actions, and rely on the Chief Advisory Panel to ensure we are genuine in our approach to policing.

Mr. Thomas, thank you! Thank you for the powerfully positive way you handled this incident. Your final words stuck a cord with me…”Chief, I want the men and women of EPD to do their job. I don’t want them to fear contacting a person of color or hesitate and get hurt. I just want them to use discretion. The black community needs the police as much as any other community. I felt he contacted me because I was black, and I needed to say something.”

Jeff, your actions and courage is how Eureka reduces bias and builds a community where civility is the norm. Thank you.


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Immigration: “Investigative Necessity”


My grandbabies, Florence and Miguel V, are brown. Their father, Miguel IV, immigrated to this great nation from Guadalajara, Mexico.  I could not be more proud of Miguel, Steffenie and the babies.  At two Florence can speak English and Spanish.  Well actually Florence speaks Spanglish. Her first word was “besos,” Spanish for kiss. This was during the same time her daddy was detained at a U.S. airport for being in the U.S. illegally; except Miguel is an American citizen. He was detained because when asked to show his green card he could only offer a California driver’s license.  Americans don’t carry green cards.

So when the topic of immigration policy comes up, it gets my full attention. I want what is best for my family and my community, as do you, but I have seen the pain poor policy causes.  Sound and reasonable policy fosters a healthy community, so EPD strives to promulgate healthy policy.

Each Eureka Police Officer swore an oath to “fight all enemies foreign and domestic.” That does not stop because some people are uncomfortable with our oath, laws or policy.  There are people here who would do us harm to benefit their ideology, belief system or to gain personal profit.  For almost 40 years I have fought to keep us safe and will continue to do so, from foreigners and homegrown criminals.  It is a constant struggle to create strategy that inflicts the maximum damage to criminal organizations and those who run them. Here is what this fight does not include.

EPD will not stop, detain or arrest people because of their color, national origin, race or religion. That is unconstitutional, unlawful and wrong. EPD policy says, immigration enforcement is only conducted for “serious violations or investigative necessity.” Detain an American citizen because of his/her religion, race, or national origin…welcome to the Federal Courts, where you will rightfully lose.  Losing public money for minimal crime prevention benefit is bad business and furthermore bad policy.

EPD will not become immigration officers.  We do not have the skills, training or tools.  This is not how I believe we should spend our precious time and minimal resources. Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, not a local one.  The 250,000 Homeland Security personnel can handle this duty well. Having said that, if any federal agency calls for help we will be there for them. Not communicating with them and sharing intelligence on very serious crime and terror issues is shortsighted and leaves Eureka vulnerable.  EPD is not interested however finding reasons to detain people for minor infractions.

Zero tolerance policing for selective sections of law becomes onerous and over polices this community. If we were to enforce all laws ICE is responsible for, can you imagine the police checking for fake Louis Vuitton purses? It’s absurd. We also do not seek to stop, detain or arrest for every infraction officers observe. We also would not detain a school mom for dropping her kids off at school in a red zone at school, a very dangerous problem.

The police must possess the ability to enforce all laws, but use discretion when to enforce those laws. If not the justice system would implode due to cost and focusing on the wrong problems and wrong priorities.  When someone is breaking into your home, should a police officer stop to ticket a speeder? No, of course not, discretion is essential, including in the area of immigration.

If, during a serious crime investigation, we identify someone who needs to be detained, we search for legal grounds to take that person off the street.  The person, not their family.  Often that means revoking their probation or parole. It could also mean calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration may be the only tool available and if that stops violence, EPD will use that tool.  What I don’t believe we should do is throw away the tool.  That becomes ineffective policy. Those who advocate to stop the police from investigating crimes committed by undocumented people have not considered the consequences of banning all immigration enforcement. I have worked cases of kidnapping and murder where ICE was a tool used to further the investigation. EPD policy says, immigration enforcement is only conducted for “serious violations or investigative necessity.”

Here is a truth: very often those most victimized by criminals migrants are those closest to them.  I cannot imagine being the victim of a serial sexual assault and afraid to speak up, because if I do I’d be deported. This is a choice some migrants face. The local police may be their only salvation from a living hell, and they must feel comfortable coming to EPD for help.  If we rigorously enforce immigration, with zero tolerance vigor, migrants and those here legally will not seek us out for help, but will avoid the police.  I believe that is morally wrong.

As a nation we need to fix our immigration system. We desperately need a virtual Ellis Island on the west coast and policy that is fair and just, one where we don’t split families or bar the poor, yet policy that still shields ourselves from criminals, transnational gangs and terrorists. If we drop the rhetoric and work together, we can create this policy and have a path toward legitimacy.  When we do, I believe the migrant community will support it and help this country continue to be exceptional.

I wrote this to explain my thoughts and therefore EPD’s policy on immigration. I welcome your feedback and input at

To read a copy of our immigration policy please go to EPD’s Transparency Portal.


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Adios, Sheriff Mike Downey


Interagency cooperation is vital to the success of any police agency. No matter how big or small, each department relies on its local, state and federal partners to be effective. Mike Downey, the Sheriff of Humboldt, has been a great partner.  Mike is one who is quick to answer his phone and bring resources to the table.  Within one hour of finding out I was the newly appointed Chief of Police, Mike Downey called me to welcome me to Humboldt, offering his home as a place to stay…short term.  Billy Honsal has proven to be just as collaborative.

EPD arrested an armed robber plaguing the downtown area. The jail was full and I needed space to put this person in jail.  I called Mike and Mike made room in the inn.  EPD had operations that needed extra personnel.  Mike NEVER said, “No.”  He always stepped up to the plate and helped.  It was Mike’s strength that instituted and maintained a countywide SWAT team when EPD shuttered its doors to a tactical team.  EPD and HCSO currently staff the team that he sustained.  His SWAP unit has been immeasurable in cleaning up the ecological disaster left by illegal camping.  Mike Downey has lead from the front in the local Chief’s group and the Humboldt County Drug Task Force.  The list could go on.

What people may not recognize or understand is that while we may be dysfunctional at times, things work based on the strength and personality of executives like Mike Downey, who don’t harbor their assets like marbles on the playground, but share their resources for the betterment of its citizens. This sharing includes the DA, Fire Chiefs, Police Chiefs, DHHS, Probation, the Sheriff and Public Defender.  Yes, it takes all of us in the system to ensure effective government, even though at times we may be on the opposite side of the table.

Humboldt will take a hit with Mike’s retirement, but I am sure Billy Honsal will step in and help immensely. Likewise the newly appointed public defender, David Marcus, will be a good addition to ensuring justice and individual rights are protected.

Enjoy your well-earned retirement Mike.  You and Annette have served us well.


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Sentimental Affection or Actionable Love…Race in America

A few people called for a copy of my MLK speech.  Here it is…as it was supposed to have been said.  There may be a few minor differences.  Also is a video of the great folks who turned out to celebrate Dr. King from the LoCo.

“Love that does not satisfy justice is no love at all. It is merely a sentimental affection, little more than one would have for a pet.” MLK

Here, in Eureka we just march together. We stood together and now we sit with one another unity. We have just demonstrated to the world that love can win.  That a community can treat one another as each of us would and to be treated following the Golden Rule.

As marcher crossed the bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965, and were met by police in riot gear. Today we crossed the bridge together, locked arm in arm, heart in heart, with the understanding that when one hurts we all hurt. As Eurekan’s we understand that lifting up the weakest among us, up lifts all of us. There is not a white America or black America, poor or wealthy America, but one America.

Today, I issue a challenge to all the people Eureka and Humboldt who believe in faith and justice; let’s get past sentimental affection and ensure justice in policing, the courts, education and housing. Let’s not see a person by anything other than a brother or sister in this ritual we call life.

I am asking you…to intentionally and purposefully go out of your way to respect others and treat them kindly, so we can make the leap from sentimental affection to actionable love.

Small efforts can have a big effect. Saying hello, holding a door or shaking a hand. Each week, I am focused on doing an act to bring people closer. You can also.

As the biblical prophet Amos said, “Let justice roll like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream.” This is the beginning of justice…to demonstrate our righteousness.

MLK wrote from jail to fellow Christian preachers who were concerned that the protest were “untimely”, “Our destiny is tied up…with the destiny of America.” Humboldt, our destiny, our future is tied up with each other.


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Eureka we have an opportunity to demonstrate what compassion looks like.  How we can unit as one to show that all people are welcomed, regardless of faith, race, color or creed. Join us 11:00 am on March 16, 2017 at EPD to show the world where justice begins.    Please see the attached press release.

MLK Speech



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Police Transparency Portal

Eureka Police Transparency Portal

In an effort to be transparent, the Eureka Police Department and the Chief’s Advisory Panel, have created a transparency portal. The purpose of this portal is to give direct access of EPD policy, statistics and press releases to the public.  The Transparency Portal will ultimately include officer involved shooting executive summaries, video released to the public via the media and more.  If there are items you would like to see included in this portal, please contact Brittany Powell our Public Information Officer, the Chief or any of the Captains.

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Post Election Healing

Recently the North Coast Journal asked me to write an op-ed on the election.  Here is what I wrote from my perspective as Chief of Police.  #timetoheal

Last week Americans exercised their constitutional rights to vote and protest. First by electing Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America, and then by protesting his election. America is such a beautiful and complex mystery. At the protest, Eureka Police officers stood by watching over protestors, ensuing their rights were protected and that citizens could speak their minds. Most protesters were kind and peaceful. They just wanted to be heard.  A few protestors, the same old tired ones, screamed expletives at the police and counter protesters who had shown up.

Here is what protestors did not know: EPD intercepted an on-line threat that a man threatened to shoot protestors. EPD developed a two tiered response: confront the person who made the threat and protect protestors, even the ones who curse the police.  Eureka, we can respond with anger, vitriol and violence, or we can chose civility. My goal for EPD and Eureka is chose civility and be a force for good.  There are four choices we must make to be a force for good.

We can chose civility. Civility toward our fellow countrymen and women is the byproduct of a healthy society. You and I can make a conscious decision to follow the lead of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Pope Francis and Rev. Billy Graham. Part of civility is possessing the ability to discuss important topics without going nuclear. Even when we feel strongly about a matter, we can discuss these topics passionately, but with the perspective that this is my neighbor, my brother or sister, my fellow Eurekan.

We must also confront evil. Those on the fringe who speak of hate or extremism, be it from the right or left, must be challenged. Yes, it takes courage. Doesn’t it always take courage and personal risk to take a stand? Recently, a student at Baylor University was pushed and called the N word.  More than 300 students showed up to walk her to her class, as they locked arms and sang Amazing Grace.  Others confronted the aggressor. They told him racism is not accepted at Baylor. That is a powerful demonstration of how to confront evil.  When a police officer in Urbandale, Iowa was murdered, a black woman brought water to a white police officer standing a traffic post.  She hugged him. They cried together.  Through a simple act of targeted kindness, they confronted an evil that tried to divide them.  You and I must stand united against racism, sexism and anarchist extremism.  These ideologies have no place in a civil society.

We can invite the vulnerable to our dinner table. There are many who feel unwelcomed to the table of prosperity and public acceptance.  We can consciously make a decision to be inclusive.  Not in a sappy way, but in a real, tangible and substantive manner.  An approach that creatively uses the strength of our differences to strengthen the fabric this community.  My mother was a young Jewish girl in post WWII America.  It was those who included her and loved her that helped heal the wounds of the anti-Semites who call her a “dirty Jew.” Certainly it takes work on both sides, but should not the strong willingly offer a hand of hope to those more vulnerable?

We also must be honest with one another. This is the tough part.  Too many people take cheap shots at one another using destructive and corrosive language to those simply expressing their opinion.  Others, cannot handle even small amounts of earnest debate.  Our community cannot get past this current schism until we chose to speak openly, honestly and directly to one another.  We must not only speak, but listen, and try to understand another point of view.  Humboldt, we should evaluate a position on the quality of the argument, the method in which that message was delivered, and the passion possessed for our fellow neighbors.

This is what I believe will help heal our city, county and nation. This is how we become a force for good and not evil. The choice is ours Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna, and the rest of Humboldt County. Can we be civil, confront evil, practice inclusivity and speak honestly?  The unity  and livability of our community depends on it.

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Here is a little analysis by a Seattle news station @King5 re burglars.  This is a very informative report as to what signs crooks look for when casing…NRA stickers are one of them.  Hide it. Lock it. Keep it.



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Prop 64

California Proposition 64- Captain Steve Watson

Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, will go before voters on November 8. Prop 64 permits adult recreational use, commercial cultivation, manufacturing, transportation and sales. We stand united and strongly opposed to Proposition 64. Please join law enforcement associations, educators, and other organizations across the state in emphatically stating, “They got it wrong, again!”

Regardless of your stance on legalization, or belief the end of “cannabis prohibition” is inevitable, Proposition 64 is not the answer for California. We believe this special interest-driven initiative is ill-timed, short-sighted, and irresponsible. Proposition 64 is patently profit-motivated and puts what many would label “greed weed” before the best interests of the public.

Proposition 64 does not protect our children.

Young people who smoke today’s highly potent marijuana may be rewiring their brains. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes legalizing marijuana noting cannabis can be “very harmful to adolescent health and development.” Research indicates there may be a causal link between marijuana use and an increase in serious mental health issues among children, such as triggering the onset and intensifying the symptoms of schizophrenia.  Mental health professionals in Humboldt County have noted a rise in acute disorders among children to which some ascribe to marijuana exposure. According to Dr. Garry Eagles, Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools, “In Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, roughly 1 in 5 students, or 20.3%, is receiving some form of special education support.  The participation rate in our two counties is almost double the state-wide average for special education of 10.4%.”

Potent edibles attractively packaged like goodies pose a danger to our children. One medical center in Colorado recently reported their hospital has seen a 51% increase in the number of children 18 years and younger being treated in its emergency rooms for marijuana-related conditions over the past two years. A Pueblo hospital recently shared statistics reporting nearly half of babies born in that hospital during one month tested positive for THC—the main psychoactive component in cannabis.

Proposition 64 does not do enough to protect our highways.

Stoned drivers are a risk to all drivers. Legalization in other states has resulted in more DUI drivers and a significant increase in deadly crashes. According to recent research released by the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety, fatal vehicle collisions involving marijuana-impaired drivers have doubled in Washington State since legalization in 2012.  Colorado has also seen a spike in marijuana-related traffic fatalities and impaired drivers. Under Proposition 64, California can expect to see the same trend.

California currently has no established DUI testing standard for stoned driving and Proposition 64’s proponents failed to include one in their measure. Responsible governance and common sense would prescribe that a DUI testing standard be in place before legalization.

Proposition 64 does not do enough to protect the public’s health and welfare.

When you consider California’s expansive campaign against Big Tobacco, Proposition 64 appears blatantly hypocritical and counters much of the progress California has made to improve public health. How can you have a public health policy that vilifies tobacco use but implicitly encourages folks to smoke a joint?

Post-legalization, some Colorado prosecutors have described seeing an increase in marijuana connected crime including the last 10 of 15 drug-related murders in Aurora, according to a May 2016 report. But one has to look no further than the cannabis capital of the country, Humboldt County, to recognize the violence inextricably intertwined with the pot trade.  Humboldt County’s homicide rate has increased steadily since 2012 with 19 homicides so far this year. The county’s per-capita homicide rate (rate per 100,000 population) over the past two years was nearly double that of the state’s mean rate.  Most of these homicides are believed to be drug-related.  Ten of 15 cases in 2015 involved drugs according to the Humboldt County Chief Deputy Coroner, and Sheriff Mike Downey publically attributed “most” of the homicides his office investigated in 2014 to their connection with “marijuana and other drugs.”

As the new “Wild West Green Rush” intensifies with legalization, an increase in marijuana-related violent crimes, DUI fatalities, and public nuisance complaints can be predicted–negatively impacting public health and safety, quality of life, tourism and businesses. Proposition 64 is the wrong initiative, at the wrong time, for the wrong motive. We urge patience so Californians can make a more informed and responsible decision.  Let’s be smart, wait on legalization, and allow time for California to watch and learn from other states’ post-legalization woes.

If we were to brand Proposition 64 after a popular cannabis strain, we’d dub it “Trainwreck.” Vote NO on 64.   

Dr. Fred Van Vleck, Superintendent of Eureka Public Schools

Michael Downey, Sheriff of Humboldt County

William Damiano, Chief of Probation, Humboldt County

Bret Smith, Chief of Police, Ferndale

Andrew Mills, Chief of Police, Eureka

William Honsal, Undersheriff, Humboldt County

Brian Stephens, Captain, Eueka Police Department

Steve Watson, author and Captain, Eureka Police Department

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The Racial Divide

The tension in our nation between the black community and the police is palpable. It feels like one bad incident and cities will burn…again.  Recently Elizabeth (Liz) Smith, member of the Eureka Chapter of the NAACP and Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Redwoods, had a cup of coffee with me to discuss issues of race, policing and justice.  Both of us felt we should lead a discussion locally.

In late August Liz and I assembled a small group of police officers and people of color. We held a private function where we broke bread, threw the cards on the table and had open, honest and sincere dialogue. (Thank you Redwood Capital Bank and the Ingomar Club.) The level of openness at this initial meeting is debatable, but I saw a group of smart, dedicated professional people (community and police) who were direct, honest and open about their perceptions and experience. Each person listened intently to one another seeking to understand. The discussion was enlightening, powerful and humbling.

If we stop here we have failed. We must push on to a place where all people are respected and feel safe.  A place where we reach toward the high ideals of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

Over the upcoming year, the NAACP and EPD will host a broader community meeting to discuss race, policing and justice. Eureka, we can show the world how love works.  We can meet and respectfully discuss tough topics, listen to each other and create a path forward, together. A path not determined by political party, but rather a highway of compassionate discourse and understanding, fairness and hope.

Monday, January 16, 2017, is MLK day. Members of the NAACP and EPD will stand for justice by marching together from EPD to the Adorni Center. There, we can celebrate Dr. King and continue to pursue his ideals. In a small way fulfill his dream.  When protestors in Selma, Alabama, crested the bridge in 1965, peaceful protesters were met by riot police with tear gas and night sticks.  Here we can dim that vision of travesty, honoring the memory of civil rights advocates by marching arm-in-arm as we crest the 5th Street hill walking toward the courthouse.

Lastly, we can mentor. The Boys & Girls Club needs responsible adults who are willing to serve as positive guides to kids, many are people of color, and help them succeed. Eureka this is your opportunity to help heal the racial divide. I would also invite people of color to mentor EPD. Teach us. Help us navigate the turbulence of policing a free society where people of color often feel singled out for enforcement and are disenfranchised from government.  Teach us to understand fairness and aide our implementation of procedural justice through fairness.

Then, just maybe, Eureka can demonstrate to the world what a just and free society looks like. Peace, civility and hope can be palpable also.

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