By Gloria Partida and Lucas Frerichs
As we reflect on the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark and so many other black lives at the hands of police brutality, Americans are struggling to find answers to stop the graphic visions of black men and women needlessly dying throughout our country. In these times we yearn for solutions, and Davis’ residents, along with many others nationwide have marched, and expressed their sadness, anger, and frustration over these most recent instances of police brutality. We too feel sadness, anger and frustration with the systemic oppression these recent events expose. We have also marched for justice, and we are committed to listening and to deep reflection on how we can best affect change as leaders in the Davis community.
Two ideas have risen to the forefront of the calls for change: “8cantwait” and “defund the police”. Research shows that more restrictive use of force policies can reduce killings by police and save lives. “8cantwait” is a list of eight policies that cities can enact. With the recent announcement by Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel to ban the carotid hold, the city of Davis meets the items on this list. This is not surprising as we have an engaged citizenry, a willing Police Chief and Department, and recent City Councils that have done much work to improve our community’s police policies. Some examples of this include:
An extensive police oversight effort in 2017-2018, involving various stakeholders (including disenfranchised groups), which resulted in the City Council creating a citizen-led Police Accountability Commission (PAC) and enhancement of the role of the city’s Independent Police Auditor, Michael Gennaco.
The Davis Police Department, in conjunction with the city Human Relations Commission and other community members, developed an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process, using restorative justice practices, as an option for individuals with complaints about the police.
We also recently enacted a forward-looking surveillance technology ordinance, instituted body worn cameras and video release policies, and embraced mandatory training for officers in procedural justice, principled policing, guardian mindset, de-escalation, crisis intervention for mental illness, restorative justice, racial profiling (explicit bias), and unconscious (implicit) bias training.
Are these measures enough? For many, the answer is no. We are now hearing increased calls nationwide, and from some in Davis to “defund the police”. When people call for defunding the police, what exactly are they asking for?
While some may want a stripping of the police department’s budget, the defunding movement is primarily about scaling police budgets back and reinvesting those resources in other community needs, such as mental health services, community engagement, or enhanced youth programming.
Investment in community services results in a reduced need to call police in instances when other skill sets are required, such as when a person is dealing with a mental health crisis. When people get the specific help they need earlier, they are less likely to end up in situations requiring law enforcement.
We believe in the need for continued improvement, and that there is always more to be done. The opportunity to show we are listening and want to be part of a solution must not be missed. We also believe that this opportunity should be more than a gesture. It should come from a deep understanding of our community’s needs. The needs of Davis are not those of other cities. While Davis is not as ethnically diverse as other communities, issues of racial discrimination and poverty absolutely exist here, and we feel a duty to facilitate dialogue and provide solutions to these vexing issues.
We also have a duty to consider what the consequences of our response will be. A proposed solution that reaches no one in our community is an empty solution, no matter how dynamic it may be in another city. Reductions in police spending may lead to hiring of personnel that are poor fits for our City as well as leading to understaffed and over-stressed officers. The City of Davis is challenged in filling vacancies for the Police Department. This is in part due to a reduction in people entering law enforcement as a career, as well as Davis’ reputation as a city that holds our police accountable and a conscious effort to hire diverse and progressive thinking officers. This is a tall order, but one we are committed to undertaking as well as the smart choice of targeted spending for homeless outreach and mental health.
The Davis City Council has already been strategically reinvesting the Police Department’s budget over the past several years. Some of the ways we have moved away from hiring additional sworn officers to hiring additional (non-sworn) community specialists include:
In FY 17/18 we allocated funds to hire a Homeless Outreach Coordinator (non-sworn) within the Police Department to address the needs of unsheltered individuals in Davis and to assist in managing the homeless respite center.
In FY 19/20 we allocated funds for a new Police Services Specialist position (non-sworn), to provide even further support for homeless outreach and services based on the large success of the first position.
In FY 19/20 we added one-time funding for recruitment efforts and to continue the expansion of diversity in the Department.
In FY 20/21 there is a budget proposal to fund $60,000 for mental health crisis intervention services. The City will contract with Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency to provide trained clinical staff when law enforcement responds to a situation involving a person in mental health crisis and to provide on-going support to those in crisis.
These increases to the City’s police budget are meant to assist in reducing negative police interactions in our community and aid in the City continuing to find ways to reach out to our marginalized communities.
As a city, we have many tools that determine the shape of our police culture. Our community voices, the Police Accountability Commission, the connectivity maintained by our senior center, the visibility of minority voices through our Civic Arts and Human Relations Commissions; ensuring the balance of funding between these vital programs and our policing is indeed something we must all keep an eye on. We must not lose sight that we all have a place in the march for reform, a say in our budget priorities, and a responsibility to speak up and insist that we continue to do better.
Your chance to use your voice around policing will be available again throughout the coming year. The Davis Police Department will be initiating a renewal of their 3-year Strategic Plan. Chief Pytel is developing a plan for broad community engagement involving the general public, students, city commissions, and more, and we urge you to participate in that process.
Budgets are a statement of values, and arguably the City budget is the most important policy we decide on a yearly basis. It is the choices we make during our budget process that help move us forward as a community. It is the actions we invest in between community protests that help bring about measurable change. We remain committed to listening to our community, gathering data and best practices, and working to make adjustments and changes that will benefit us all now, and in the years ahead.
Gloria Partida is the incoming Mayor of Davis. Lucas Frerichs is the incoming Vice-Mayor of Davis.