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Police Officers Union Conducts Training as Community Outreach

An Airsoft compressed gas pellet gun used in police training scenarios. (Action Alameda News)

The Alameda police union conducted training sessions at the police department last week, inviting community members to participate as part of an outreach effort.

Alan Kuboyama, a sergeant with the violent crimes unit of the Alameda Police Department, and president of the Alameda Police Officers Association extended the invitation to the event, “designed to give Alamedans a peek into our profession, while giving our members an opportunity to further develop their skills.”

(In e-mail exchanges after the event, Kuboyama asked that this story make “abundantly” clear this was a police union exercise, and not a City of Alameda Police Department exercise. All participants were members of the police officers association.)

Kuboyama hosted as Action Alameda News observed one community member, who asked not to be identified and who will be referred to as “Jim” in this story, participated in three scenarios involving an officer responding to a call and interacting with a suspect; the role of the suspect was played by a real officer and Jim played the role of the responding officer.

The scenarios were engineered around creating the potential for Jim, in the role of the responding officer, to use lethal force; he wore a holster with an compressed gas pellet gun over civilian clothes, and an eye-covering safety mask.

(In a pre-scenario briefing, officers explained to Jim that real officers have less-than-lethal weapons for soft tissue, such as the stomach, legs and arms.)

It was also designed to give first line supervisors a chance to practice their response to an officer-involved-shooting. Kuboyama said the last such shooting involving an Alameda officer was over 10 years ago.

Training for the responding supervisors is important to the union, to protect the rights of officers, as the supervisor has limited questions they can ask an officer involved in a shooting.

In the first and third scenario, a report of a suspicious person checking car door handles, and a report of a man with a knife, respectively, Jim advanced too closely to the suspect. Trained officers know to keep some distance and use voice commands to guide the suspect to where they can be seen.

The second scenario involved the report of a man with a gun; Kuboyama said that, in this case, Jim responded “textbook,” drawing his weapon and talking the suspect into laying down his weapon and safely making an arrest.

The knife-wielding suspect didn’t fare as well, however, having rapidly advanced on Jim, prompting him to discharge his weapon, shooting the suspect.

At this point, a uniformed sergeant responded to the scene, to continue the scenario down the path of investigating an officer involved shooting.

At that point, Kuboyama explained the supervisor would take the weapon that was discharged by the officer and do a count of shells fired and still in the magazine; the officer would be assigned a replacement weapon.

The police union and fellow officers would also respond with support for the officer, outside of the investigation, which involves the Internal Affairs team of the department, an administrative review of the shooting (did the officer follow policy?), and the district attorney’s office.

For example, the union works to ensure the officer’s family hears about the shooting from the union or the department, rather than media, or pays for a hotel room if the officer lives out of town and needs to stay overnight to participate in the investigation. The union rep might arrange for the officer’s kids to be picked up from school, if necessary.

The rep also works to suppress the rumor mill, within the legal limits of the facts that can be shared.

In the scenario, officers gave feedback to the sergeant on his actions in the role-play; Kuboyama explained that the Alameda department is small and relatively flat, where senior personnel are more open to feedback from junior officers.

An Alameda police officer role playing as a suspect, wearing a protective mask. (Action Alameda News)

The prospect of officers investigating one of their own raises the question of “the thin blue line” – the cultural brotherhood of policing that many believes protects corrupt cops.

Kuboyama responded, saying, “we have a responsibility to our profession – we can’t and don’t want bad officers to tarnish our badge. The system has checks and balances to identify those who are not fit to perform the functions of a law enforcement officer.”

Last summer, the Black Lives Matter movement grew in prominence, in response to police shootings of people of color in different cities across the nation. Nearby Oakland was a focal point, with protestors shutting down the freeway in and around downtown Oakland and near the Webster and Posey Tubes. During election season, voters challenged Alameda City Council candidates with questions about their stance on police brutality.

Asked about the subsequent broad calls for police reform, Kuboyama responded, saying, “Reform is only as good as the input we receive. We need to work with our community in order to improve police services. In Alameda, when there is a police shooting, an officer will be investigated by two agencies. They will undergo an administrative and criminal investigation led by the police department, and also a criminal investigation led by the District Attorney’s office. As public servants, we will not risk our careers to cover up for another officer.”

It should be noted here that police officers, upon retiring from their department, sometimes move on to roles with the District Attorney’s office, as has happened within Alameda.

For Kuboyama, last week’s exercises – three community members were scheduled for the participation the day that Action Alameda news observed – are part of a long term, continual training program for association members.

The Alameda Police Officers Association is comprised of all technicians, dispatchers, officers, and sergeants. Those above the rank of sergeant (except for the chief) are members of the Alameda Police Managers Association.

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