For two hours the council listened on Tuesday night as the public weighed in on police funding—many of the public urging for major cuts to the police department, and some calling for outright defunding. In the end, the council supported more modest measures and passed the budget as proposed.
Councilmember Dan Carson did note that the adopted budget included $1 million in police department reductions. The motion passed would take a look at current operations, to look beyond the police department as to how they can deliver services to the people of Davis.
“There was consensus last night that we would look at the broad range of issues that we would address in the strategic plan for the police department,” Carson told the Vanguard on Wednesday. He noted that for the most part the tone of the conversation has been “respectful” and “reasonably voiced” about a wide range of ideas for reform.
Mayor Brett Lee, however, believes that the problem is not the police, it is society and that we need to address the broader implications of race and poverty rather than focusing on defunding the police.
“The complaint is because the police behave in a way that is representative of society,” the mayor told the Vanguard.
The Vanguard spoke with four of the council members on Wednesday, following the meeting. The council members are willing to look at changes, but none seem clear on what defunding would mean and most would be willing to look at focused and specific changes if they make sense.
The four most recent emails received by the city reflect the nature of the public’s ask.
Liliana Valladares expressed concern about the Davis Police share of the general fund at $34.9 million “taking away desperately needed resources from essential city programs and services.”
She argued, “The investment in policing has not made us safer, especially for Black Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ community — Davis PD remains an embarrassment to the city and a lethal threat to Davis’ Black and Brown communities, while increased police spending shows no correlation to decreasing crime levels over the past 20 years. It is clear that we must defund the police.”
Micah Lee added, “It is inappropriate and dangerous for Davis Police to be have any responsibilities related to homelessness, mental health, or public schools. The city’s limited resources should be used to actually solve our problems instead of making our community less safe and more vulnerable to violence and racial profiling.”
Cristina Puente, a student at UC Davis added, “Continued and excessive police funding leaves Black communities in Davis vulnerable and no safer than before.” She added, “In a time that police brutality and militarization disproportionately harm Black Americans, the City must address and incorporate the needs of our marginalized communities.”
The council, however, while taking a serious look at this issue, is not jumping into any sort of major change at this point.
Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida told the Vanguard, “I don’t like the title of defunding the police because it creates an expectation for people.” She said, “There is a large spectrum of what people want under that.”
Some people want the police department completely abolished while others simply want cities to invest in other departments “that would interrupt the need for people to get to the point where the police need to step in.”
One big common thread is the need for social workers and mental officials.
“I absolutely think we need more social workers to be on board when there are mental health crises,” Partida said.
Councilmember Will Arnold noted that whatever they determine is the best way to provide public safety, “it must be the result of a community-driven process.”
Councilmember Arnold continued, “There is no question more funding to combat homelessness, for mental health services, drug rehabilitation, and others that have been suggested I support wholeheartedly.”
He noted, “These are all things by the way that have been massively defunded over the decades by the federal and state governments. And it’s clear that many—if not all of them—have a positive effect in reducing crime.”
The councilmember added that “it’s also fair I think to say that there are responsibilities we require of our police that are not a natural fit or couldn’t benefit from reimagining.”
Dan Carson said that the main social services provided by the city are programs to help the homeless from the Respite Center to Ryan Collins, who works with the police on homeless outreach and coordination. They also have the need to create a permanent overnight shelter.
With specific regard to policing, Carson is open to looking at various ideas.
He said there “have been a wide variety of ideas coming forward to us about how we reform our system of policing.”
“Every email I see defines what they mean by defund the police differently,” Carson said. “I don’t know honestly what that term means.”
Dan Carson said we should look at the ideas coming forward with “a wide lens” and “err on the side of including people’s ideas” and then narrow in on the ones “that make sense for Davis.”
A number of people expressed concerns that the actions taken by the council on Tuesday did not go far enough.
“We’re working hard and earnestly to address the concerns in the best way that looks out for the best interest of the city,” Carson said in response.
But Mayor Brett Lee went a lot further in pushing back on this conversation.
Mayor Lee noted that the Ban the 8 push doesn’t really fit Davis. In fact, as the Vanguard reported a few weeks ago, the city police have already done that, completing the last of those steps when it banned carotid control holds a few weeks back following the governor’s announcement.
“For some communities (Ban the 8) is going to be a heavy lift,” he said. “For Davis it’s done.”
“Defunding the police, the fact that someone cuts and pastes this slogan and it applies nationwide,” he said. “I think there needs to be a little more nuance.”
He said pointedly, “The reason we’re here is not because of the police.”
Instead, he believes the problem is “because people are racist.” He said, “That’s not confined to the police department, but America.”
He believes, instead of focusing on defunding the police and putting that money toward social services, “let’s put money toward social services.”
He called “ridiculous” the idea that the police should be blamed for all of the social ills of society.
“The police are a reflection of our society,” he said, noting the rising prevalence of white supremacy groups. “Putting it on the shoulders of the police is ridiculous.”
The problem he sees is “we don’t put that lens back on ourselves.”
For example, he cited when the city proposed a respite center for the homeless which would provide flush toilets, a shower, and a place to do laundry.
“All the people come out of the woodwork and say, how dare you put that in my neighborhood,” he said. Then you have people “in public comment unabashedly calling people who are less fortunate sleeping by the tracks, just with a broad brushstroke, call them what they are.”
He said, “Somehow we let that slide.” And yet, “I guarantee you if I walked down the street with a confederate flag, people would be in my face up in arms. But somehow when we dehumanize people who are struggling… for whatever reason… the (people) in our community get a free pass.”
He said, “This whole incredibly selfish behavior.”
He said, “UC Davis, the students, the pestilence. Never mind that in our region probably the biggest agent of social change is UC Davis.” He said, “40 percent of the students there are from first time college families.” And “we have people in our community, comfortably calling students a pestilence. That’s not the police. Why aren’t those people called out?”
Pacifico, he said. “We have people calling this a ghetto.” He said, “That has nothing to do with the police. But that viewpoint allows the police to be the way they are. Because they are the protector of the rich and privileged in many cases.
“They have no choice,” he said. “That’s what they get pressured to do.”
He noted the resources go to crime in the rich white neighborhoods of the suburbs, not the poor neighborhoods of the cities.
“They’re a reflection of society and the political process,” he said.
—David M. Greenwald reporting