The city of Davis has hired two consultants to help lead it through the police oversight update process – Barbara Attard and Kathryn Olson. On Thursday, over 100 people gathered at the Davis Senior Center to listen to the first step, and then participated in a nearly hour-long discussion facilitated by Elvia Garcia of the Yolo Conflict Resolution Center.
The participants were asked two key questions under the heading of “what are important elements of oversight for Davis?”
First, what are the police issues in Davis that oversight should address?
Second, what factors are important to a successful oversight program in Davis?
What transpired over about 45 minutes of discussion was an eye-opening experience of the last 10 to 20 years of concerns in Davis.
A retired professor told the group that over the years he heard countless stories of racial profiling from most of his students of color.
Hazel does a lot of volunteering for agencies that work with the homeless in Davis. She said, “The folks that are homeless feel like they are treated very unfairly by the police, that they’re
targeted and singled out.” She said, “Any kind of oversight should address the fact that folks who are homeless haven’t in the past felt like they could complain, because if they complain about something that happens, they feel like they’d be targeted that night and rousted at night. They don’t have to a place to go.”
Stephanie Pereira noted that several police have beaten people up on video, they’ve lied about it in court, and no complaints were formally filed. “Nothing happens and they don’t get fired,” she said. “I don’t think that people should have to complain about things formally and take themselves over to the police department in order to be investigated.”
She expressed a sentiment that a lot of the audience did when she said, “I don’t think this oversight board should be appointed by anyone. I think it should be an elected body. Two people at least should be affected by police brutality or have been affected by police brutality in Davis. We need that representation there.”
She added, “They should have the power to really investigate things and release the findings to the public. Because we are kept in the dark.”
Luanna Villanueva said, “I don’t think the commission should have people on it that are appointed by the mayor, the city, or the police chief. I think it needs to be from the citizens in general in Davis.”
Connor Gorman brought up the issue of power. “I don’t think the police and the larger community will ever have the same level of power but I think a civilian oversight board that does have the power to investigate and subpoena and discipline officers would move in the direction (to equalize) the power between the community and the police a bit more.”
Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald said it really moved her to see everyone there. “I want it to be safe for people to speak up, to not be ostracized, to be criticized for speaking out. That happened ten years ago,” she said.
She expressed concern with the people who were not there because they are afraid to speak out. “I want to include those people from the various community (members) who are not here today,” she said. She asked that the city reach out to those people who might be fearful to come forward and speak out.
Another young lady spoke out, concerned that people of color be included in this body. She said, “We want to make sure that this police oversight body is not just something that the city uses as a way to silence critics, but is a legitimate way to oversee the police.”
Lisa said that knowing we don’t have a perfect tool to do (this), “I hope that we can aim to use the practices that we know of to be able to assess whether we’re doing a good job of addressing things like hate crimes and hate incidents that I’ve heard from more than one source are increasing dramatically in Davis and this country.”
Jann Murray-Garcia noted that she and Cecilia in the mid-2000s decade were struggling with this issue. She suggested that the use of lawsuits proved effective and in 2005-06, there were seven of them. But it was a tough struggle – the Human Relations Commission, she said, “was actually disbanded and they are not allowed to receive complaints.”
She said, “I don’t want to be afraid for my children to go out. Sometimes I look at my son and he’s so beautiful and he’s 5-8 and I don’t want to be afraid for him. I don’t want people to send their children to this world class university and report that they hate it.”
She was also concerned about the complaint process, noting that sometimes they take months to process. She also said, “I don’t want the complaints to go to the police station.”
Robert Canning talked about the importance of recruiting, noting that “having a police force that is responsive to the community and police having respect for both the citizens and oversight, comes from having people on your police force who are well-trained, have integrity, and are the right people to do policing.”
Abram Jones talked about his experience on the UC Davis police accountability board, which Barbara Attard advised when it was being set up. The board came as a result of the 2011 Pepper Spray incident.
He said one thing he learned, serving on it as a graduate student, “was that for the community and the police to take the board seriously, in the community’s eyes, the board must be composed of a very good, thorough cross-section of all demographics, ethnicities, etc.” He said, on the other hand, for the police to take it seriously, “it does need to have some teeth.”
He noted that, with regard to transparency, the board on a quarterly basis releases all of the information that it collects.
Dillan Horton, a UC Davis student, spoke out saying “a good chunk of the people who feel like they’re targets sometimes of the police system, are people who come to Davis as students from outside of the city… I think people should be aware that people outside of the community are becoming aware of that.”
He said some of his African American friends chose to go somewhere else because of what they had heard about African American people’s experience here in Davis.
Ryan Davis said we should be careful of qualifications being required (for commission members), like having a law degree. He quipped, “I have a law degree but I’m also the privileged white guy who stood up because I grew up in Davis. So of course I have a law degree.” He added, “a law degree is totally irrelevant to this.”
He said, “It seems critical that somehow the police themselves buy in and accept this oversight.” He said he could see that in the police station, with the officers grumbling about this and finding ways to undermine the process. So he said, “The people in power at the police department need to find ways to make sure that the culture there is accepting of citizen oversight, believes in it, accepts it.”
Juliette said that, personally, she has had positive interactions with the police, but when she talks to her African American friends, “they have a totally different experience.” On Picnic Day she spoke with an African American man who was considering coming to UC Davis or Sacramento and “that incident made me realize just how unwelcoming our community must be to people of different colors and ethnicities and races.
“I think there needs to be an understanding and awareness of what our dominant white culture is,” she said.
Later she talked about the fact that Davis is a city that promotes bicycling, “and yet our police force is constantly trying to get the latest equipment, the latest expensive police cars and even armored vehicles. To be consistent with our values in this community – police should be on bikes.”
She added, “I want this Davis community, I want my children to grow up in a truly multicultural justice-oriented community with more equality and I do not want to see African Americans and Africans leaving this community after they come here because of the experience they have with the police.”
She said a friend she played soccer with left because “he was so harassed by the police in Davis. He was injured in police custody – severely injured – he had surgery on his hands and he left to go live in San Francisco because he was not safe here. He did not have a life here that was safe and dignified. I don’t want to hear that ever again, those stories happening in a place like Davis.”
Another woman said, “I had a black son who came up here to UC Davis – every single night that he was out at the library or at a friend’s party off campus or even on-campus, he was taken, put up against the car – the whole routine – every single time. And you know that he was at the university for five years, he lived here for five years, (and) after that, he finally just left the country.
“He now lives in another country, where the problem doesn’t exist and he’s safe and feels great,” she said. “That’s terrible. It means because of my economic situation, when he left – he said goodbye.
“I essentially lost my son,” she said with tears coming to her eyes.
Barbara Attard and Kathryn Olson explained that this is phase 1, in which they will gather “stakeholder input” in a variety of ways: community meetings, sponsored forums, interviews, written input via a website portal, gathering historical information, ride-alongs and meetings with the Davis PD. This will be completed by February 16.
There will be a report and recommendation by March 31 with a public presentation set for April 30.
—David M. Greenwald reporting