“Our officers deserve to have the best tools and resources available to them. And our citizens in crisis deserve dignity and support.”
Those were just some of the impassioned words spoken by Kristin Hart during the Redwood City Council meeting on Monday. Hart’s whose husband, Kyle Hart, was fatally shot during an encounter with police on Dec. 10, 2018. She was joined by Kyle’s mother, Lori, and other family, friends and supporters in advocating for law enforcement changes they believe will help prevent fatal police encounters in the future.
After Kyle’s death, the family and their supporters spent several months learning about police best practices, equipment, policies and training. They presented their findings to council Monday with help from a retired law enforcement veteran with expertise in use of force tactics.
Their recommendations involved improving department-wide crisis intervention training, equipping every patrol car with M40 bean bag guns along with Tasers, and body cameras for all patrol officers. Kristin Hart felt it was her responsibility to share their knowledge and influence change.
Their advocacy has already made a difference. Mayor Ian Bain and City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz met with the Harts to discuss their research. At Monday’s council meeting, the mayor said the city is already working on a plan to equip all officers with body cameras by year’s end, and is “seriously considering all of the recommendations and research.”
“I applaud the Hart family for wanting to try to make something positive come out of this terrible situation,” said Bain, who knew Kyle as his daughter’s social studies teacher.
Like many in the community, the mayor said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news of Kyle’s death.
Kyle Hart, 33, was a devoted father who loved teaching middle school and also liked to bike, surf, sail and travel, his wife said. He was being treated for anxiety that had been under control with common medication and a healthy lifestyle, she said.
Then, on the morning of Dec. 10, 2018, Kyle had an unexpected reaction to his medication, causing him to become suicidal. According to an investigation by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, Kyle was attempting to commit suicide by cutting himself with a large kitchen knife when his wife called police to their Lincoln Avenue home. Kristin pointed two arriving officers in the direction of her husband toward the backyard. During their encounter with Hart, Hart didn’t respond to officer calls to put his knife down, and then reportedly charged at the officers with the knife raised. After one officer unsuccessfully fired a Taser, the other fired his gun five times, striking Hart three times.
In March, the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved, saying its investigation revealed the use of lethal force was justifiable under the law.
The Hart family, however, say their investigation shows equipment and training could have prevented Kyle’s death.
“We support public service agencies, including our police department, but like any agency, there are always opportunities for improvement,” Kristin Hart said. “With our city’s recent growth, it is not a surprise that changes need to happen.”
Added Kyle’ mother, Lori, “My son was an authentic and amazing person who led a very full and meaningful life. Neither this work nor the way he died will define his legacy. His legacy will be defined by his beautiful children, the love his family and friends will carry with them, and how we will move forward with him, in our hearts, to make a more inclusive and kinder community. But nevertheless this work is very important and must be a priority. It is simply the right thing to do.”