Recommendation: California’s Mutual Aid system needs to be reformed to allow for greater department discretion and officer accountability
Oakland’s reliance on the Mutual Aid System contributed to the breakdown in police professionalism at some of the Occupy Oakland protests. Mutual aid officers came to Oakland poorly briefed on the city’s Crowd Control Policy, and primed for an “emergency” rather than a policing action to contain a largely non-violent protest.
Some key reforms to consider might be to allow police departments to request mutual aid assistance even in non-emergency situations such as the Occupy Protests. In such situations, mutual aid contingents could arrive on less of an emergency footing, and have a more substantial opportunity to familiarize themselves with the host community’s operating policies and procedures.
Host police departments might also develop more systematic management strategies when requesting mutual aid. Examples might include assigning discrete tasks to incoming units, and ensuring that they receive adequate training on how to communicate with the other officers taking part in an operation. Host communities should face sanctions for failing to develop such management strategies, possibly compromising their ability to draw on the mutual aid system in non-emergency situations.
Finally, there need to be clearer lines of accountability between the police departments that contribute police forces to a mutual aid engagement and the individuals whom they are policing. This may involve a special institutional mechanism designed specifically to investigate and attempt to resolve or refer complaints about officer misconduct in cross-jurisdictional contact between citizens and police departments.
What other measures might be implemented to better align California’s Mutual Aid system with the norms of constitutional policing?