For the past couple of months, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal has been one of the local officials on a regular rotation taking questions from local media while providing updates on how the county is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This week, though, Honsal began his scheduled media availability with brief comments on the local response to the death of George Floyd. Honsal said his agency supports peaceful protest. 

“We do hear their voices,” Honsal said. “We do understand and so we’re committed here — in Humboldt County  and in law enforcement — to make a difference, to building relationships, to earning the public trust. That is very important to us and we’ll continue to do that.” 

Onto the standard Q&A: The Outpost will summarize local media’s questions and Honsal’s answers below or you can watch the whole clip above.

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(2:19) Since schools have been closed has law enforcement seen a decrease in reports of child abuse? If so is that because children are interacting less with teachers who are mandated reporters?

Yes, Honsal said there has been a decrease in the number of reports which could be related to their not being in school.

(3:14) Governor Newsom’s has extended California’s eviction moratorium until July 28, 2020. How do you expect this to affect us locally?

The rent moratorium, Honsal explains, was put into place to allow people who may have lost their jobs reprieve from rent so they don’t end up without a place to live during a global pandemic. However, there are instances locally of people whose evictions were already in progress prior to COVID. If the sheriff’s office does end up serving those tenants with an eviction they will work with them to secure other housing.  

(4:40) Do you think frustrations from extended sheltering in place intensified the outrage seen at last weekend’s protests?

That could be the case, Honsal said, but more likely is that a small group of people wanted to take advantage of the situation and cause havoc. For the most part, though, Honsal saw a peaceful protest.

(5:38) What did the sheriff’s office learn during last weekends protests?

Honsal noted what he views as the success of the local law enforcement agencies cooperating to maintain the safety of protesters during the gathering. 

(7:12) Has HCSO changed its use of force policy in the past five years?

California has placed new limits on when officers can use force in the last year and HCSO adheres to those new standards. Every incident in which an officer uses force is reviewed by a sergeant and if department policy was not followed disciplinary action follows. 

“Accountability is key in building trust in our community,” Honsal said.  

(10:34) What training have deputies received in deescalation techniques, especially when dealing with minority groups?

There are times when quick decision making is required, but if the situation allows for it deescalation is an important tool for deputies who are often dealing with people who are under great strain.

“Law enforcement officers: We deal with people’s worst days everyday,” Honsal said, adding that preserving the safety of the public and the subjects they interact with is their top priority. 

(12:48) Is the sheriff’s office looking to make any changes following recent events?

HCSO is always looking to improve, Honsal said. One thing they’ve done recently is acquire a Force Options Simulator which offers officers an interactive opportunity to train for how to react to various situations they may face in real life. Due to COVID, though, they have not yet been able use it. 

(15:55) What does “Black Lives Matter” mean to you?

Honsal: “What that means to me is that there are a lot of  hurt people here in our community. Saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter, it just means that we are listening to our black community and we understand the hurt and the pain that they’re going through. They see something: systematic racism that’s going on within the community or our country. And so it’s my job to instill faith in our black community. We are here to serve them. Racism has no room in law enforcement, has no room in our community. I am there to serve them and be the example of what a law enforcement officer is supposed to be.  I’m supposed to be a peace officer. I’m supposed to be there to listen, to help, to understand, and to assist them in all of that. I think it’s very, very important that law enforcement in general has that point of view and that we’re there to support our minority community and build trust with our minority community.”

(17:51) The officer who killed George Floyd had been accused of misconduct multiple times. Have there been investigations into the misconduct of local officers?

“We hold people accountable,” Honsal said adding that there are internal affairs investigations that do occur based off citizen complaints. He also cited the work done by the CIRT (Critical Incidents Response Team) in investigating incidents where deadly force was used. 

(20:20) How closely are you following the wild unsubstantiated theories circulating around social media about busloads of “Antifa” traveling from cities to small towns, and the disproportionate reactions of citizens in Oregon and elsewhere to such rumors? How concerning are such things to you?

Honsal said he believes Antifa was, in fact, in Humboldt making trouble during last weekend’s protests and that he does not believe the reports of Antifa-filled buses to be false. 

“We did have substantiated law enforcement reports that said that Antifa did have people in buses that were in Southern Oregon and in the Central Valley and so we do keep track of that. That’s part of what we do,” Honsal said, adding that he has told his deputies to be prepared should they happen to pull over Antifa-types.  

(Note: The Outpost sent Honsal some followup questions on this subject seeking clarification on how he defines who is and who isn’t a member of “Antifa” and for further details on the law enforcement reports referenced in his answer, above. Honsal’s emailed responses are below.)

LoCO: You said that there were “members of Antifa” involved in last weekend’s protests here in Eureka. But what is a “member” of Antifa? How do you define that? How do you determine who is a member of Antifa and who is not?

Honsal: “Antifa is a radical group that utilizes violence and chaos to disrupt current society. A member, to our agency, is defined as someone who embraces this ideology and identifies themselves as acting in cooperation or coordination with the group. We were able to confirm that members of Antifa were present during the protest based on law enforcement intelligence, resources and the member’s tactics which confirmed that they were present and active during the march.”

LoCO: You said that there were “confirmed, law enforcement reports” of Antifa being bused to Southern Oregon and the Central Valley. Which law enforcement agencies reported that? Do you know how they confirmed these things? Certainly the rumored buses never arrived.

Honsal: “The California Highway Patrol has confirmed with us that buses associated with Antifa were located in the Central Valley. We do not have further information regarding their current whereabouts or how CHP made that confirmation.”

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Honsal ended today’s Q&A session by encouraging protesters to remain peaceful. 

“We want to be able to listen to the message,” Honsal said. “We are hearing the message. This community is hearing the message, but what we want to do is we want to steer away from violence. We’re trying to restore our community right now, coming back from COVID.”