There were times when it seemed the emotions of the moment were going to boil over, but each time they threatened to do so, the community pulled back.
There were moments when the passions rose, but even Alan Miller who delivered a very pointed rebuke began his comments by stating, “This isn’t personal, I have had nothing but great service from the Davis Police Department.”
But the connection that he made was not between Ferguson and Davis, but rather with the actions on the UC Davis Quad on November 18, 2011. He also pointed out, “I’m not worried about you guys, I’m worried when you get a bad leader.”
He referenced the UC Davis Chancellor and stated, “That’s the point because I didn’t blame the UC Davis Police Department for what happened on 11/18, I blamed bad political leaders who made police make a bad tactical decision and forced them to do it and that could happen with the city police department as well if a protest appeared to get out of hand.”
I will admit, as I watched the speakers coming forward, I had a flashback to 2006. But this was different from 2006. For all of the passion, frustration and occasional anger that was expressed on Tuesday night – almost none of it was directed toward local police and none of it was personally directed toward Chief Black or his leadership team.
There is no doubt that the process here was not preferable. Leadership should have been more sensitive to the political concerns and sensitivities of the majority of Davis residents. I think the council action taken, in particular with regard to the second and third parts of Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis’ motion, will move the city back on track in that regard.
Retired Police Chief Phil Coleman made the comment, “I’m a cop, and the season for hating them was the 60′s. The respect (occasionally begrudging) shown towards the DPD leadership and membership was pervasive throughout the session.”
The objections to the police vehicle were made strongly and passionately, but mainly in terms of things like community values, questioning the need for the vehicle, and questioning the tide of police militarization.
As noted above, even some of the more passionate remarks, such as those by Alan Miller, were praising of local police and blamed the missteps of the past not on the police but on mistakes made by civilian leadership.
There was little in the way of cop-bashers, or people making negative, derogatory or even critical remarks about the Davis Police Department. Many speakers and certainly members of the council went out of their way to say complimentary things about the leadership of the department or the interactions the public had with the police.
I agree with that. Last spring, in another capacity, I proudly nominated Chief Landy Black for Thong Hy Huynh award for precisely the reasons stated above – the chief has helped to reach out the community and build trust to the point where if there is an issue that arises – and the MRAP has been as heated an issue as there has been in some time in this community – the response by the public, while disapproving of the policy direction, was nevertheless respectful of the work performed in the community.
That is all you can ask for – and that is not what happened in 2005 and 2006.
I was re-reading some commentary from that time and the disconnect was remarkable. When the police chief left abruptly and unexpectedly in June of 2006, he wrote a stunningly critical departure email, casting blame on a city commission and my wife, who was the chair of the commission at the time.
In his email he blamed “the Human Relations Commission and its chairwoman, Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald, for limit(ing) my effectiveness to work with this fine community.”
“Despite the great work of the members of this police department, the HRC has divided the community along race and religious lines to fulfill a self-serving political agenda,” Jim Hyde wrote in the email.
He would add, “In my 27 years of government service, 10 years of clinical psychology and 16 years of working with nonprofit organizations, the HRC is the most dysfunctional and incestuous group I have ever witnessed. I hope that (the) City Council will correct this community problem.”
Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald responded, “We need to hire a new chief that can work with community groups like the HRC and others to establish meaningful dialogue that can produce common ground results.”
While she was heavily criticized at the time to the point where a month later the HRC was disbanded, we got exactly that. Chief Black’s great strength has been the ability to work with community groups. The police department, whether it is Assistant Chief Darren Pytel or Lieutenants Paul Doroshov, Tom Waltz, or Ton Phan (and others), has worked extensively with the HRC and other community groups to build understanding.
At the same time, unfortunately, that we had the discussion at City Hall, the non-profit Davis Phoenix Coalition collaborated with the Davis Police Department and Assistant Chief Pytel to have a community forum that was very successful.
This work lays the groundwork for mutual trust between the community and the police, so that when something goes wrong the groundwork is already laid for communication and dialogue.
That was not in place eight years ago and that allowed incidents that should have been minor to tear the community apart.
I may not agree with Chief Black on this MRAP issue and I know he disagrees with me. My main criticism here is about process, not necessarily substance. We can agree to disagree on the need for this equipment.
I understand that Chief Black did what he believed the right thing was for making the community, and the police officers over whom he has responsibility, safer and reducing the risk of death or catastrophic injury for both groups.
I won’t try to pretend to know more about police tactics than Landy Black.
I will highlight one more comment from former Chief Phil Coleman, an individual I have also grown to respect over the years and to appreciate both his participation and the perspective that he offers.
He wrote yesterday, “I was impressed with the brevity and general temperament of the commenters. Yes, there were the requisite drama-queens on display (in this instance, kings), but they are strategically positioned to give comedy relief. Both ‘sides’ had at least one eloquent speaker. One older gentleman made an observation that was spellbinding to me regarding ‘process.’ I get the distinct impression that everybody in the City has taken a blood-oath to not publicly discuss the communications breakdown on the tank.
“It was a bad evening for the PD. There were some huge holes in the argument for retention, but 2 councilmembers courteously pulled their counter-punch to avoid embarrassing the speakers.
“The high-water mark for the DPD was when Chief Black gave a rebuttal to the question of possible ‘military creep’ this device may symbolize here and everywhere, to the further peril of American citizens’ liberties. It was a truly masterful response, and truly disappointing nobody even noted it. It bears repeating, so the creeps can stop creeping.
“Chief Landy said that compared to police eras past, today’s citizens are more effectively protected from police intervention into personal liberties than ever before. The creeping actually goes the other way, with our cherished civil liberties going upward.
“In full concurrence, I can go back a half-century for local police comparison purposes. The civil liberty denials and abuses by police then were much greater than now. Landy should have gotten a standing-O for that one. Instead, he received total silence and blank looks.”
I fully appreciate Phil Coleman’s comment here. And he’s correct. The problem is that there is a rise in the use of military equipment by the police and I think that represents a threat not only to civil liberties but to the need to have a clean distinction between civilian and military policing.
For me, the bottom line in this discussion is that we were able to do it really without community bloodshed. This didn’t devolve into a police-bashing incident. We were able to make a point as a community and still recognize the progress that the Davis Police Department has made.
And now we as a community can move on and address the more critical issues before us as to how we are going to fund city services and amenities in a time of declining revenue.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Here is the video from the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting: