This week, and for a second time, OC Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento found himself publicly questioning a private policy manual and training service for most of California’s police agencies.

The first time was when he was still mayor of Santa Ana, when a routine city contract renewal in September for Lexipol – a private company that writes policies on use of deadly force and body searches – became a push for community-written policies instead.

It tied into a broader question facing departments across the state hooked into Lexipol’s system, about who exactly should author police officers’ procedural guidelines:

The public, or a private company?

That question most recently fell on the OC Sheriff’s Dept. at the county supervisors’ regular meeting on Tuesday. 

The agency’s used Lexipol since 2011, and requested a three-year, $176,000 contract this week to now include training for jail staff in its continued use of the service.

Answering questions in front of the public on Tuesday, Sheriff Cmdr. David Main couched Lexipol as a smaller slice of officer priming.

The private contractor “represents a very small percentage of our ongoing Peace Officers Standards Training, and our in-house board of corrections training,” he said at the speaker podium.

Sarmiento, however, was driven by concerns he raised as Santa Ana mayor, about a company believed to serve about 95% of law enforcement agencies across California – including his home town of Santa Ana.

“Almost a monopoly here in the state,” the former mayor said at the countywide dais. 

Speaking to colleagues, Sarmiento recalled the time “we were looking at this (in Santa Ana),” and “there was a use-of-force policy that wasn’t followed and wasn’t done well for us there.”

“We saw some flaws, we saw some problems with some of the manuals and training policies, which are very important,” he continued. “That’s what our officers are trained to carry out. And so we had decided not to renew, and we went in house, and decided to see how we can do it to better tailor the needs to the standards of the community.”

In Santa Ana, Sarmiento’s concern was that the company’s training was inadequate and ramped up legal costs from the public. 

At the September discussion, he and other council members cited a Voice of OC story from 2020, which reported that police litigation added up to more than $24 million in legal costs from 2011 through 2020. The data included costs for outside attorneys’ fees, but not those for cases handled by in-house legal counsel.

[Read: Santa Ana Police Lawsuit Settlements Cost Taxpayers At Least $24 Million Over Last Decade]

“If you do the math: $24 million in monies paid for settlements and bad police practices,” said Sarmiento at the Sept. 20 meeting. “And that doesn’t mean our police are bad, that just means training is not that good. And that goes at the root of what we’re talking about.”

By its own count, Lexipol has equipped 8,100 police agencies with its policies – a way for municipal agencies to keep down expenses and shave off work they’d otherwise face in-house, to maintain what are often thick policy manuals and keep them current on changing case law. 

On Tuesday, Sarmiento was publicly questioning whether the contractor protects officers more than residents:

“I won’t be supporting, because I did see, in the second bullet point in the scope of work, similar to what we saw in the city – that there was a mention of officer safety, which is completely important, which is also making sure that there’s risk management. But I didn’t see any mention of the public’s safety.”

He continued: “I hope that in the future, that’s something that could be included, as well as maybe some research done as to how we can bring these practices in house, maybe tailor training manuals, any other practices and policies that that our department could use …”

In their questions and comments, other supervisors cast Lexipol as one facet of deputy training.

“You will have extensive training other than these online trainings?” asked Supervisor Katrina Foley to Cmdr. Main.

“Significantly more than that,” Main responded, adding the department “would like access to everything they have” and that none of the modular training would supplant that which would happen in a classroom.

Supervisor Don Wagner cited the University of California, Irvine’s police department as an example of an agency that can tweak the service as necessary.

“So that opportunity is there to make some changes, tweaks – whatever phrase you want to use to Lexipol – and what it offers, correct?” Wagner asked.

“That is correct,” Main replied.

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