57 pepper balls fired at non-violent suspect leads to policy, training changes

The Calif. department’s changes stem from an incident where the pepper balls were fired at a suspect after police stopped a car in search of a stolen vehicle

By Ashley Silver

CARLSBAD, Calif. — The Carlsbad (California) Police Department is updating its use-of-force training procedures and gaining community feedback after an incident involving a stolen car.  

According to KPBS News, the changes stem from a call in April 2021, when police stopped a car in search of a stolen Kia SUV. Officers pulled over the vehicle driven by a female with a male passenger. The male passenger was asked to exit the car and initially complied, but began resisting arrest.

During the scuffle, another officer fired 57 pepper balls at the woman sitting in the car, prompting her to run. The woman was eventually arrested at a nearby hotel.

The internal affairs investigation found the officers to be justified in their use of force and there were no complaints from the public, but the Carlsbad Police Department wanted to use this opportunity as a learning experience to ensure officers were providing the best protection and service to the community. They began by disciplining the officers for violating their policy on non-lethal force, de-escalation and supervision responsibility.

“The officer using the pepper ball gun was out of compliance for firing pepper ball rounds that struck the female even though she wasn't armed or a violent threat,” Carlsbad Police Department Asst. Chief Christie Calderwood told KPBS News.

A supervising officer was also disciplined for not doing more to de-escalate the situation. The department followed this up with changes to their training methods pertaining to beanbags and pepper balls, reaching out to community groups for their input on new de-escalation policies and training.

“We didn't just take the step of providing additional training to the officers involved, we said, ‘let's cover the entire department,’” Calderwood said.

KPBS reported the case is the only use-of-force incident reported by the department under state law.

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