Commentary: How the City Got Picnic Day Incident Right

Mike Gennaco delivers his report

Between the public comment in the general session, the interim auditor’s item and the recommendations by the police oversight consultants, the night was long and tiring and contentious.

But, while it was contentious, it really wasn’t that bad.  As Will Arnold put it, “The only use of swear words were by a comment that was objectively hilarious.”

Context is everything in situations like this.  I have been coming to the council pretty much every meeting for the last 13 years.  I have seen the council almost get shut down when a community member protested the Target decision.

I saw Ruth Asmundson end up in the hospital after a confrontation with Sue Greenwald and I then held off City Manager Bill Emlen from going after Sue Greenwald in the hallway.  Even recently, the council at times has had to call a break when members of the public refused to yield.

It is not that everything was bunnies and rainbows on Tuesday, but I truly believe that the steam was taken out of the room because (A) the city manager showed leadership, (B) the police chief took responsibility for mistakes, and (C) because even though we didn’t get to see the McGregor Scott report, Mike Gennaco made it almost a moot point.

The reality is that there have been far more contentious meetings and there is a good reason for that – from the report by Mike Gennaco and the adept handling of the situation by the new city manager and city council, they were really able to diffuse the worse of the public anger, even if that anger was only from a portion of the public.

In my view, the city council for much of this time was caught in the middle, but Mike Webb and Mike Gennaco managed to fix in the last two months or so most of what went wrong for seven to nine months in – and that fact is rather remarkable.

One of the most remarkable things that occurred on Tuesday is what didn’t happen.  In 2006, when there was a push for civilian review, it triggered every single rank and file police officer and the Davis Police Officers Association (DPOA) President publicly opposed a civilian review board.

This time, just 12 years later, there was no one from the DPOA that spoke.  There were a few officers there, but mostly it was the leadership of the department and they watched.  The amazing thing is that what the council approved on Tuesday, was remarkably similar to what the Human Relations Commission had pushed for in 2006 on their way to being shut down.

Mistakes were made in this process.  The police did not handle the situation at Picnic Day well, and the council has a list of recommendations that are already being implemented.

There was bad process a year ago.  The press release was never believable – at least to me and many other community members.  It was compounded when the chief made the decision to hire John McGinness to be the investigator.  Fortunately he was so transparently bad, we got him to withdraw less than a week later.

Chief Darren Pytel speaks on reform efforts

To be honest – that decision mattered greatly because Mr. McGinness told the Bee later on that he saw nothing concerning.  Well, McGregor Scott – who is now the US Attorney here in Northern California – saw it differently and sustained three complaints and Mike Gennaco agreed with those findings.

But the problems went beyond the cops on the scene and beyond the chief’s ill-advised press release and hire of Mr. McGinness.

There was also the failure by the city manager and city attorney to vet the hire of John McGinness.  As I have said before, it was not a long search to find problems with Mr. McGinness, whether it was his failure to oversee his own department’s problems, his views on racial profiling, or the thing that finally got him in hot water, his comments on the Civil Rights Act.

Harriet Steiner and Dirk Brazil discovered none of this, and I wonder, without the work of the Vanguard, what would have happened.

They also made a crucial error in failing to anticipate the non-release of the Scott report.

Finally, as Mr. Gennaco’s report attests, there was even the Scott report itself that was lacking, and he spent an extra month bolstering it.

And so there was an angry council and city manager in December.  Mike Webb had this mess dumped on him in December.  As planning director, he likely wasn’t paying attention to any of this.

This could have been a problem.  It could have been explosive.  And yet he managed to clean up the mess rather quickly.

The hiring of Mike Gennaco saved the day.  He was quick to praise the city for giving him unparalleled cooperation, but Robb Davis got this right: “The Gennaco report was the open window that we were looking for into the Scott report.  I didn’t expect it to be what it was, but I’m thankful for it.”

Instead of lamenting the fact that we didn’t get to see the Scott report, we are discussing what went wrong and how to fix it, and that’s what Mike Gennaco fixed.

And the council needs credit.  They stayed quiet.  Some thought they should speak earlier, and frankly I agreed with their decision.

Will Arnold said, “Still to this day, I don’t know if I’m stepping beyond of things a councilmember ought to say about an incident like this, about judg(ing) professionals in a profession that I cannot even pretend to understand their day to day.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said, “Regarding my silence over the course of the past year, I erred on the side of caution.

“I certainly feel like I no longer have to remain silent,” he said. “This event should never have happened in the first place.”  He added, “It entirely could have been avoided.”

Perfect.

I know some criticized the silence of the council, but, as a legislative body, they had to wait for the results of the investigation before weighing in. Now they did.

Let me say this as well that of course I criticize Darren Pytel for his press release, for his failure to come clean sooner, and his hire of John McGinness.

But I think in the end he redeems himself.  He came forward with an apology.  Maybe it didn’t go so far as some wanted, but it is a lot further than most chiefs would go.

Mike Gennaco has worked with a lot of departments and communities, and he said on Tuesday that this was the most cooperation he had ever received.

The council is quick to point out that Darren Pytel never told them not to pursue stronger police oversight.

I think in this situation we have seen the worst of Chief Pytel, and the best of him, and now we hope that he has learned from this experience – because the next time he has an “oh sh-t moment” he is going to not have as long a leash to make a mistake.

But for the first time since I started doing the Vanguard, because of similar concerns over the police as arose this time, I feel like there is support from the city manager to the council to the police chief to go forward with a stronger and more robust form of oversight than we had in 2006.

That is all I can ask for.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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45 thoughts on “Commentary: How the City Got Picnic Day Incident Right”

  1. Tia Will

    David

    Having been at the meeting, I want to thank you for what I see as a very fair representation of what occurred. Not everyone got exactly what they wanted or “demanded”. However, acknowledgement of error, acceptance of responsibility, and willingness to change are key to collaborative processes. I think we saw all of the above from Chief Pytel, Mike Webb, and the City Council.

    I came away from this City Council meeting optimistic about the possibilities for lessening the adversarial tone and divisiveness between police and the civilian community and moving to a culture of collaboration. For this, I am both thankful and hopeful.

  2. Alan Miller

    > It is not that everything was bunnies and rainbows on Tuesday

    I’m going to use that phrase.

    > I then held off City Manager Bill Emlen from going after Sue Greenwald in the hallway.

    > and I wonder, without the work of the Vanguard, what would have happened.

    The Vanguard not only documents the history of Davis, it changes history of Davis.

    . . . but beyond the ribbing, and beyond not knowing some of the specific roles of certain individuals as speculated, I do agree with the overall arc of this commentary.

        1. Alan Miller

          > not knowing some of the specific roles of certain individuals as speculated
          >> Name names!
          >>> Alan pretty much did.

          Just to be clear, and I really hate being clear, I wasn’t talking about the past stuff.  I agree with this commentary, and TW’s opening comments and related hope.  My only point in saying the above was there was some speculation about specific people, and I didn’t want to agree with something I have no inside knowledge of.

  3. John Hobbs

    “I know some criticized the silence of the council, but, as a legislative body, they had to wait for the results of the investigation before weighing in. Now they did.”

    Agree, appropriately circumspect.

    “But for the first time since I started doing the Vanguard, because of similar concerns over the police as arose this time, I feel like there is support from the city manager to the council to the police chief to go forward with a stronger and more robust form of oversight than we had in 2006.”

    I hope you are correct, but so far all I see is the chief doing the “my bad” dance for the public and council. Gratefully no one lost their life in the Picnic Day incident.  I know that the real solution to this epidemic of police abuse is to hire and train better police. Better educated, smarter and less paranoid. And they’ll have to accept more oversight and accountability.

    We’ll see.

    I look forward to learning the fate of the three officers who precipitated the event.

  4. Dave Hart

    How will we in the community know that the civilian review process is working?  What measures will be tracked?  Or is that all still to be determined?

    I’m not interested in regaining faith in the DPD. I’m interested in a change in behavior that results in officers who identify with the community and see their authority as conditionally granted on a daily basis.

    1. Keith O

      Just like we had to hire another auditor (Gennaco) to review the first auditor’s (Scott’s) findings we might need another committee in order to review the civilian review committee that reviews the auditor’s recommendations.  Are we going to have just one auditor or should we expand to two?

       

      1. David Greenwald

        Your post has inaccurate information.

        First of all, McGregor Scott was the investigator not an audit.

        Second, Mike Gennaco was hired as the interim auditor for the city of Davis.  He replaced the position that Bob Aaronson occupied.  His first job was to audit the internal investigation.

        Having a high profile incident is an unusual circumstance.  Normally the work of the auditor will be viewing internal investigations performed within the police department itself.

  5. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

    First and foremost, I believe the Picnic Day 5 need to have their records cleared. It is the right thing to do. It is the just thing to do.

    Second, any cost to the Picnic Day 5 that resulted from this terrible action taken against them should be compensated monetarily (Lost time of work, school, other opportunities, reimbursement of travel, parking, medical appointment costs, etc.)  It’s the least the city could do.

    This behavior was so over the top that remedies need to happen in order for healing to begin.

    Secondly, there needs to be a change in procedures. Normally when officers approach large crowds they will identify themselves and using a megaphone 📢 will ask people to please clear the area or relocate to the sidewalk or other area. This did not happen on this day.

    Lastly, there finally needs to be some kind of oversight. We asked for it in 2006 and were slammed for asking for it. For the sake of the public and the sake of  the officers who uphold the la oath they took, and the sake of students and people of color in particular, we need to have some oversight that works toward restoring trust and communication.

    Thank you Davis CItay Council. Thank you Mayor Robb Davis! This has not been easy but all parties are to be commended for working towards making things better for our community.

     

     

    1. Keith O

      So how much money should the guy that was carrying ammo get?  How about the girl that was kicking the officer on the ground, what’s that worth?

      WCRR

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            No. But that wasn’t the issue raised by the use of the term “alleged” – Moreover if you look at the initial sentence, it was written in general terms as a hypothetical and therefore not intended to be case specific. And you still haven’t answered the question I posed in that hypothetical as to whether alleged criminal activity negates claims of official wrongdoing.

        1. Keith O

          Your hypothetical doesn’t hold because it isn’t alleged criminal activity.  They were sentenced to a felony for resisting arrest and a misdemeanor for battery.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Even if you believe that – at the time the police were responding, it was alleged criminal activity.

      1. Tia Will

        Keith

        Is carrying “ammo” sans gun illegal in California ?  If not, it is irrelevant.

        “Girl kicking the officer on the ground” – context matters. Was she acting in what she perceived as self defense ?  If so, it was justifiable.  Police officers regularly use even lethal force when they are in fear for their lives. Had she realized it was a police officer she was kicking ? If she knew, it is not justifiable.

         

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          This is correct – if she believed those were not officers and instead possible attackers, then her kicking him is justified.

          Moreover, Keith is using their plea agreement as evidence of admission of guilt. Whereas I see the plea agreement as a way to avoid the risk of custody time.

        2. Keith O

          “Girl kicking the officer on the ground” – context matters. Was she acting in what she perceived as self defense ? 

          Self defense?  The officer was on the ground being pinned by two other guys and she ran up and kicked him several times in what appeared to be his head?   So Tia, how was she acting in self defense?  When the officer was being pinned to the ground what danger was she in at that point?

          You people are amazing, you bend over backwards to make all kinds of excuses for everyone involved unless they happen to be a cop.

    2. Howard P

      Secondly, there needs to be a change in procedures. Normally when officers approach large crowds they will identify themselves and using a megaphone  will ask people to please clear the area or relocate to the sidewalk or other area. This did not happen on this day.

      Damn good point!

      Might have had the same outcome, but that would have been a good first choice… coulda’ , shoulda’, woulda’… 20-20 hindsight has its limitations, but can be informative for the future… damn good point, moving forward…

    3. Dave Hart

      How will we in the community know that the civilian review process is working?  What measures will be tracked?  Or is that all still to be determined?

      I’m not interested in regaining faith in the DPD through changes in procedures alone because all the same officers are there.  I’m interested in a change in behavior that results in officers who identify with the community and see their authority as conditionally granted on a daily basis.  Marginal improvements are fine and are better than nothing, but how do we assess a change in behavior?

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        “How will we in the community know that the civilian review process is working?”

        In general, we will know the next time an “oh sh- moment happens” whether the current system works. I know that’s an unsatisfactory answer.

  6. Ron

    I must be an extraordinarily polite person.  I wouldn’t block the street for extended periods (causing an obvious backup), nor would I engage in a fight with someone who confronted me about it (police, or not).  (At least, not if I was thinking clearly.)

    Nor do I require a bullhorn, to remind me of this.

    I’m also not “normally” carrying around ammunition.

    But hey – that’s just me, I guess.

    1. Howard P

      Has nothing to do with “politeness” (in these circumstances) … what you describe, Ron, is “common sense” … good call… laudible… there is a question(s) about folk on both sides as to “if I was they were thinking clearly….”… wasn’t there, will not judge… but fair question as to ‘state of mind’ (or, lack thereof) of the participants… 

      Here, you hit the nail squarely on the head, Ron… have a great evening/weekend…

      As did Cecelia, as to ‘best practices’… she spoke truth, as well…

        1. Howard P

          Yes, we’ll see… am thinking, “yes” (as to manageable)… there have been aberrations, but after 40+ years in the community, it is not the norm, and I see little trends… IMHO/experience

        2. Ron

          There was the guy jumping on that woman’s car, as well.  (Something that I viewed as much more serious.)

          So far, no one has mentioned the sound police work in finding the (apparent) perpetrator. I understand that this case has already been resolved. (Perhaps we should all express our appreciation, for that.)

          Perhaps off-campus activities are changing, over time.

    2. Tia Will

      Ron,

      I also am an extraordinarily polite person, but have during public events had to be asked to clear areas from time to time. I see it as vastly preferable to be asked rather than driven up close to in a threatening manner in an unmarked vehicle in plain clothes shouting profanities.

      The issue is not about what you or I would do. The issue is about the appropriateness and legality of the actions of all concerned at the time.

      1. Dave Hart

        One needs to ask oneself, or all of us in the community, what would have happened in the same situation if the people standing in the street were white?  What if it were Ron, Keith O, Tia, Howard P and Dave Hart?  First of all, I don’t believe the police in the unmarked vehicle would have told us to get out of the f*king street.  And because of our age, background we would probably have complied without a second thought or without taking it personally, though we would have been rightfully concerned about the intent of those inside a car yelling at us in that manner.  If, on the other hand, your daily reality depends on standing up for yourself because of your outward appearance that is beyond your control (race), you would react to the situation differently without giving it a second thought.  So easy to point fingers. And yes, all charges should be dropped and their records sealed.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            How do you know it wasn’t about race? How do you know that the officers wouldn’t have reacted differently to white students in the same situation?

        1. Ron

          Regarding race, it’s speculation (one way, or another).

          Regarding age, I think most folks are responded to differently, as they get older.  But, I’m not sure if this is because older folks respond differently, in the first place. And, are less likely to engage in behaviors that get them into trouble.

          I behaved differently, when I was a teenager (than I do, now). However, when I became an adult (18), I changed. And, I continue to change.

          In any case, it’s not likely that I would be found blocking traffic for extended periods (and engaging in fights with those who might confront me) at any age.  Nor was I carrying ammunition.  (Obviously not known about, until later.)

        2. Ron

          I will say that I’ve been spoken to “harshly” at times, by the police.  (Not lately.) One time, an officer did not believe that I was unaware that she had been trying to pull me over, while I was driving a very loud moving truck (with loose steering, and an exterior mirror that wouldn’t stay adjusted). The situation became very tense, despite my explanation (and obvious shortcomings of the truck).

        3. Keith O

          David

          How do you know it wasn’t about race? How do you know that the officers wouldn’t have reacted differently to white students in the same situation?

          Well from the same Gennaco Report that you seem so giddy about Gennaco found:

          However, they do not sustain a violation on the use of force or biased-based profiling.

          So are you going to take his determination on this or are you just going to cherrypick the parts of the report that align with your beliefs?

          http://www.davisvanguard.org/2018/04/police-hammered-interim-auditor-handling-picnic-day/

        4. Ron

          Keith/David:  Of the choices you presented, can I select choice “B”, on behalf of David?  🙂

          Actually, in all honesty, I haven’t seen him state that it was based upon race. Not sure what he believes, though.

          I’m pretty sure that I saw some white folks in that video, as well. I’m guessing that they did not engage in the subsequent fight.

        5. Ron

          Regarding racism, has anyone entertained the possibility that some may have reacted in a less-than-ideal manner, as a result of being aggressively confronted by someone of a lighter skin color (without realizing that they were the police)?

          Again, it’s speculation. But, some folks seem comfortable in arriving at conclusions, based upon such speculation.

          In general, some folks seem to think that racism, prejudice, and resulting hostility are limited to those with light skin color. They almost state as such.

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