Anaheim Police Chief Resists Calls for Immediate Officer Statements After Shootings

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Spending requests for the Anaheim Police Department were among the recent subjects of increased public scrutiny over the last several weeks and months. Pictured are Anaheim officers walking Maxwell Park while clearing it of homeless people in 2018.

Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros is resisting calls to have officers make statements the same day critical incidents happen, like when officers shoot someone, and to not allow officers to see body camera footage before making their statements. 

Anaheim City Council members during their Tuesday meeting were presented with some recommendations for the police department from the city’s Police Review Board and the contracted, outside investigator Office of Independent Review Group

“We agree with the Police Review Board that seven days is too long to wait to get the statement of the involved officer,” said Michael Gennaco, founder of the independent review group. 

Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor who’s reviewed high profile cases like the 2011 Fullerton police beating death of Kelly Thomas, told the council officers should be interviewed almost immediately after a critical incident, like a shooting or use of force. 

“We believe the officer should be interviewed before he goes home that night. That is one of the recommendations the department has not yet accepted,” he said. 

Although, Gennaco noted that Cisneros has accepted nearly all of the other recommendations, including a ban on chokeholds.  

“We can check the boxes on numerous items that have been brought forward and I think we are in a good place,” Cisneros said. 

He also said the police department needs to rethink its approach to policing. 

“We have to go away from being reactive to proactive,” Cisneros said. “We have to start looking at how we hire, how we train … there’s a need to change. We kind of already do that.” 

Councilwoman Denise Barnes, who requested the police review presentations last month, said the lag in police statement time could create a perception of a double standard. 

‘Is the public permitted the same courtesy?” Barnes asked. 

Councilman Jose Moreno was the only other person on the council to ask questions about the lag in statement time, which can take up to seven days. 

He also asked if people the police stop or arrest are able to see footage or are allowed a delay in making their statements. 

“Councilman Moreno, subjects that we stop have rights. So they don’t have to talk to us. So if they have video, they have a right to go view it,” Cisneros said. “Now if they are arrested on probable cause … they don’t have to give a statement at any time, that’s the law.” 

No other council members questioned department procedures, although Councilman Steve Faessel said he would like the Police Review Board and the Office of Independent Review to give two reports a year, instead of just one. 

Cisneros said it’s normal in many police departments throughout the state to have a lag time before an officer makes a statement about a shooting or other critical incident. 

“The timing period is one that upon my arrival there was no policy. I made a policy that it had to be within the first seven days,” said Cisneros, adding the officer is taken off duty for 72 hours and put through a series of psychological evaluations before returning to work. 

The city hired Cisneros as police chief in 2018. 

“Being involved in a shooting is a traumatic event for our community and our police officers,” he said. 

Cisneros also said experts he has consulted told him that after a traumatic event a person’s memory of the incident gets better as more time passes. 

“So there is a difference of opinion in experts, and Mike and I might have different experts we look at,” Cisneros said. 

But Gennaco said other officers who see a shooting should be interviewed immediately. 

“Witness officers to an officer-involved shooting are interviewed the night of the incident,” Gennaco said. “I’m not talking about the Orange County District Attorney investigation … I’m talking about the internal reviews done by the Anaheim Police Department.” 

He also said officers shouldn’t be allowed to see their own body camera footage before making a statement to internal investigators. 

“We think the best practice, and memory experts agree with us, is to get a statement from the officer and then allow the officer to view the body worn camera,” Gennaco said. 

“We’re still at odds with the department,” he added.

But, Cisneros said, District Attorney investigators — who routinely review critical incidents for any potential criminal conduct — already allow officers to see their body camera footage first.

“It is their current process that they allow them to view the body cam, so they’ve already seen it by the time they come to us,” Cisneros said. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.