Guest Commentary: Toward a New Model of Policing for Davis

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A Letter to the Public Safety Joint Subcommittee

by Morgan Poindexter, Julea Shaw, Aarthi Sekar, Rowan Boswell, Caitlin French & Jordan Varney

When formulating the specifics of policy changes, it is easy to lose sight of why that policy change is necessary in the first place. It is important to take a step back and remember the broader picture. The process of re-envisioning public safety was spurred by an outpouring of grief and hurt in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd and countless other Black people across our nation in recent months and for decades before that. These murders do not stop, or slow even while the nation is in the midst of a pandemic. The recent shooting of Jacob Blake has highlighted the urgency of the situation and the danger of maintaining the status quo. Our region of Northern California has been the site of many high-profile police shootings such as Stephon Clark (Mar 2018), Willie McCoy (Feb 2019), and Sean Monterrosa (Jun 2020). Our state, region or city cannot expect to exempt itself from this long overdue conversation.

We want to take a moment to recenter the conversation not on the minutiae of the data or local politics or ego, but instead on the people in our community for whom the current system is failing. In public forums, commission members and city leadership have heard from the Black and Brown people in our nation and in our Davis community who say that they do not feel safe in the presence of law enforcement.

We have reached an inflection point that was well summarized by Dr. Khalil Muhammad, a Harvard professor of history, race, and public policy when he said:

“The question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd. . .do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of Black, and, in too many cases, Brown, Indigenous and Asian populations in this
country?”

It is the task of this sub-committee to reaffirm, through your actions, that the City of Davis’s answer to this question is a resounding no. A return to or insignificant attempt to “reform” the status quo is insufficient.

As acknowledged by Mayor Gloria Partida and Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs in their June op-ed in the Davis Enterprise, while the changes we have made are moving in the right direction, there is much more work to be done. The truth is that these incremental changes are not enough to overcome a philosophy of, and approach to public safety that relies on criminalization, perpetuates inequity, and which fundamentally does not protect and serve every member of our community equally.

While the path may not be immediately clear on how to solve this centuries-long problem, there are forms of evidence that exist that can guide us in this process. We want to emphasize that any further steps, especially as we consider a transformative change, need to be based on the best available evidence. By evidence, we mean data from our community, academic literature, expert opinion, and stakeholder and community experiences.

On the topic of alternative first responder models, our research team has compiled an extensive list of academic literature, reviews, meta-analyses, etc. written by experts. The alternative models fall broadly into the categories of: Crisis Intervention Team Training (CIT), Co-Responders, Mobile Crisis Teams, and EMT and ambulance-based responses. Each of these models vary in their levels of officer involvement, ranging from the armed officer as the sole responder (CIT) to a response involving both an armed responder and a medical professional or social worker (Co-Responder), to an entirely medical/ social worker response team which calls upon armed officers only when necessary (Mobile Crisis Teams, and EMT/ambulance based). [For an extensive review of all models, definitions, pros, cons, etc. we recommend the Vera Project’s October 2019 review: ‘Crisis Response Services for People with Mental Illnesses or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: A Review of the Literature on Police-based and Other First Response Models’.]

To determine which models will be appropriate for Davis, this sub-committee and city leadership need to understand the benefits and downsides to each of those models. However, in the August 11th joint subcommittee meeting, discussion seemed to focus almost entirely on the co-responder models and CIT training. We want to caution against focusing on only one or two models before giving full consideration to the many models available both nationally and internationally. While we have heard some of the benefits of the co-responder models in the last meeting, we want to highlight some of the critiques from the academic literature that have not yet been discussed and that we feel require particular attention when creating solutions for Davis.

Firstly, the effect and outcome of having an armed officer as a primary responder even as part of a co-responder team has yet to be extensively reviewed as the current co-responder models are diverse and myriad in their approaches, making it challenging to effectively determine the model’s efficacy in relation to other models which do not involve armed officers (Vera Project, Puntis et al. 2018; Shapiro et al. 2015).

However, based on the available literature, here are commonly discussed concerns:

  1. Co-responder models might be harmful rather than helpful to those who are experiencing a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis. 
  • Specifically, having an armed, sworn police officer arrive at the scene can be triggering and traumatizing to those who are at-risk, especially if they have had negative encounters with police in the past (Evangelista et al., 2016; Puntis et al., 2018).
  • Officers and clinicians surveyed as part of the pilot PACER program in Melbourne, Australia found that while police officers were mostly positive about the program, only 40 percent of the clinicians were supportive of the unit continuing after the pilot as they noted that the police department frequently made inappropriate referrals in situations that could have been handled better without a police officer present at the scene (Lee 2015).
  1. Co-Responder models rely on broader social service infrastructures to be in place to work effectively
  • One of the key tenets of co-responder models is having drop-off centers equipped and ready to receive those in crisis.  Many studies note the scarcity of such drop-off centers, which reduces the efficacy of co-responder programs (Vera Project, Puntis et al., 2018, Shapiro et al. 2015)
  1. Establishing effective partnerships between the two very different types of agencies (policing and mental health/ social services) has been difficult
  • Clinicians on co-responder teams find it difficult to work collaboratively with police while upholding patient confidentiality (Lee 2015).
  • Police officers typically have little to no formal training on mental health and on handling behavioral health crises (Lamb et al., 1995; Shapiro et al. 2015).  Even with CIT training, many qualitative studies note that police officers are unable to adequately provide sufficient support. Specifically, in interviews with mental health consumers who had previously experienced a crisis intervention, Boscarato et al. found “most participants reported that 40 hours of training for CIT officers was grossly insufficient” (Boscarato et al., 2014).
  • The Cleveland co-responder program known as the Street Triage in the United Kingdom surveyed stakeholders who noted  that many officers bypassed the team and took individuals directly to the hospital, regardless of whether it was the right approach or not, either because “Street Triage staff were unavailable or because they disagreed with a mental health nurse’s assessment” (Dyer 2015).
  • It is incredibly challenging to establish a coordinated partnership (instead of ‘ownership’ of one party over the other) between two highly distinct organizational cultures and perspectives – the police department and the mental health/substance use disorder agency (Bar-on et al. 1995, Bailey et al. 2018)

As we mentioned, academic literature is only one of the many forms of evidence that we should be considering. Another crucial form is hearing local community members’ experiences with police and social services in Davis. To that end, our Local Voices researchers have created a survey on police interactions to be circulated to community members. They are compiling a list of community members from groups disproportionately affected by the police and are planning a series of community stakeholder roundtable discussions to get input on alternative public safety models. This community outreach is crucial to the goal of ensuring all members of our community have a seat at the table during this important process.

We cannot stress this enough- this joint subcommittee has the opportunity to enact meaningful changes that can substantially improve our community. You have the opportunity to be bold, creative and truly transformative. Davis has everything it needs to be a leader in this moment of national reckoning: a public will, experts at one of the largest public universities in our city, and an engaged community that is eager to help move this process forward. All we need now is for our leaders to be brave, gather the evidence, and take action.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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30 Comments

  1. Robb Davis

    I am very thankful to this group of volunteers for doing so much background research and data analysis of policing in Davis and options for restructuring our public health and safety services.  I hope they continue to provide these summaries to help us analyze options. Given the importance of these structural changes, moving forward to analyze evidence in a systematic way is critical.

    When we examined police oversight options we used a very similar approach and did significant community outreach to hear from affected populations.  That work brought us the system of oversight we have today.

    I would encourage everyone thinking through these issues to add an analysis of how our fire department is deployed and whether those standards are the most effective use of resources. To adopt a public health approach to public safety will take careful analysis and this group is providing significant leadership to this effort.  I hope our Commissions will carefully examine their evidence base and recommendations.

    Let me know if/how I can help.

    1. Julea Shaw

      Robb, thank you for your thoughtful comments throughout this process. Our team would love to touch base with you to chat about your insights and thoughts on these issues.

    1. David Greenwald

      City. It is the subcommittee comprised of HRC, Police, and Social Services tasked with making recommendations for changes to public safety. (Hint: if you look at the category at the top, you will notice the article is tagged as City of Davis)

  2. Alan Miller

    I’m all for reform, involving community members and evidence based.  I support the community jumping into that.  However, this one quote seemed to set a tone that didn’t match the premise of the article:

    “The question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd. . .do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of Black, and, in too many cases, Brown, Indigenous and Asian populations in this country?”

    A bit of a ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ conundrum . . . with the pre-assumption/accusation embedded in the question.  The only measure is a binary choice of white people’s interests vs. ‘the rights and dignity and lives of [people of color]?

    How does that “equation”even work?  . . . that’s a false choice.

    Only white people want their ‘interests’ protected by police?  People of color in many communities are asking white people to stop calling for their police departments to be defunded.  This article references a gallup poll claiming 81% of black people do not want their police department’s funding reduced: https://www.newsweek.com/81-black-americans-dont-want-less-police-presence-despite-protestssome-want-more-cops-poll-1523093.  Perhaps some people of color want their interests protected by police . . . is that concept beyond the realm of possibility?

    I’m all for reform and possibly some restructuring.  Dropping this quote in an article claiming to call for ‘evidenced-based’ decision making seems to belie a politically-based intention that could skew the viewing of ‘facts’.

    1. Julea Shaw

      Response on behalf of the authors:
      We appreciate your feedback and perhaps providing more context will clarify why we chose to include that quotation and why we think it is central to the task at hand. In short, it boils down to this: We cannot consider reform or restructuring without acknowledging why we need it.

      When considering the system of policing that we use throughout the United States, we must take into account the historical context on which the institution was founded and how that expresses itself in modern policing practices. As explained by the work of the scholar who we quoted, Dr. Khalil Muhammad, policing was borne of slave patrols and militias. After the Civil War, these slave patrols gave way to vigilante hate groups, such as the KKK, “policing” newly freed Black people in the South. In the North, policing was also used to uphold racial hierarchies and maintain power, which frequently manifested through refusal to protect POC. Today, police can still be used as a tool to uphold that racial hierarchy through the over-policing of, disproportionate police violence against, and higher incarceration rates of BIPOC in this country. We highly recommend Dr. Khalil Muhammad’s book The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America or NPR’s Throughline episode “American Police” to learn more about this.

      As with all issues of systemic racism, pointing out these disparities is not to place blame on any individual person or police officer. They, in most cases, did not personally make the decisions that created the system as it is today. However, the onus is still on the individuals who benefit from an unjust system to reject that system and to use their privilege to create something more equitable. In this case, as with most, those who benefit are white people.

      It is for these reasons that we do not consider this quote to be reflective of political ideology, but instead of civil rights. The Constitution is founded on the principle that all people are treated equally. As citizens of this nation, we, therefore, see it as our civic patriotic duty to do everything in our power to ensure that this tenet is lived up to in all aspects of our lives.

      Additionally, in your comment, you asked if “Perhaps some people of color want their interests protected by police?”

      We never stated that they do not, and would never claim to speak for anyone or any group of people. However, it is important to consider that at the very heart of the Black Lives Matter movement is a group of people asking to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and by representatives of our institutions, such as the police officers. As has become painfully obvious through the countless police shootings of unarmed Black people, the system as it exists now is not protecting their interests. Therefore, the binary more specifically lies in accepting a status quo that demonstrably protects white interests above all others or rejecting that status quo and re-envisioning a system in which all are truly protected and served equally. It is specifically within that re-envisioning process that we advocate for evidence-based decision making, as we have already seen decades of evidence to show us that the current system is frequently unjust.

      Also inherent to your question is the assumption that safety can only be provided through the use of a police force. That assumption requires reevaluation. Police are not the only agents through which public safety can be achieved. This notion is inherent to the discussions being had at the city level to ‘re-envision public safety’. We encourage you to look at the conceptual model of public safety that we presented on slides 5 and 6 of this presentation which broadens the umbrella of public safety to include proactive, supportive social services that target the root causes of crime. 
       

      1. Alan Miller

        I appreciate your thoughtful and reasoned response.  I agree with much of what you say, and could at least have a conversation with you (the authors) about the rest.  Very refreshing to get a response such as this in this forum.  I will check out the slides you referred to and listen to the npr audio.  I know we won’t agree completely on the philosophy or the solutions, but there is common ground and I will listen to your proposals with an open mind.

    2. Morgan Poindexter

      As a point of clarification: The Gallup Poll referenced by the commenter found that 81% of Black Americans wanted the same (61%) or more (20%) police presence in their neighborhood, and did not mention ‘defunding’. This same poll also found just 18% of Black Americans were “very confident” that police would treat them with courtesy and respect during an interaction.

      Another Gallup Poll from the same time period found that 70% of Black Americans were in favor of reducing the budget of police departments and shifting the money to social programs while 88% of Black Americans believe that major changes are needed to police. This indicates the existence of nuanced views in the Black community around policing, which we would never presume to speak on behalf of.

      As we stated in our letter above, an important part of this discussion are the experiences and opinions of community members which is why our Local Voices research team is conducting surveys and scheduling community roundtable discussions. If any community members would like to be share their experiences or thoughts, take our survey, or join in the community roundtables, you can email us at davis.public.safety@gmail.com .
       

      1. Alan Miller

        Thanks for expanding on the nuances – one parameter cannot give the full picture.  I have no doubt whatsoever that DWB and disproportionate enforcement are very real.  Listening to black friends/acquaintances experiences with police, this is absolutely undeniable.  Assuming every interaction is racially motivated is not accurate either – and how to tell the difference is a virtual impossibility for many interactions.

  3. Richard McCann

    Another change could be to transfer traffic law enforcement to a different department that focuses solely on traffic management and safety. Right now traffic law enforcement is also used as an enforcement dragnet that greatly increases the chance of confrontation. I’d like to see the statistics on what proportion of arrests leading to conviction for non-traffic offenses arise from traffic stops. “Driving while Black” seems to be one of the most traumatizing experiences and “decriminalizing” driving might help deescalate the situation.

  4. Ron Oertel

    Robb:  I would encourage everyone thinking through these issues to add an analysis of how our fire department is deployed and whether those standards are the most effective use of resources. 

    I think this might be the most important comment of all.

    (On cost alone.)

     

  5. Bill Marshall

    Note (typ) : guest contributors/authors… seldom show ‘background/CV’… almost like being ‘anonymous’ posters… whatever… not my blog, and I have no standing…

    VG editorial board may want to reflect…

  6. Dave Hart

    “The question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd. . .do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of Black, and, in too many cases, Brown, Indigenous and Asian populations in this country?”

    I think focusing on the precise words in the quote by Dr. Muhammed is another way to lose perspective on the broader picture.  Maybe another way to state this, with all due respect to Dr. Muhammed, is “Do white people in America still believe their interests would be uniquely threatened if policing is not done primarily on their behalf and with the ‘nice white family’ as the model citizens?”  When considering the archetypical ‘citizen’ for whom our current police force provides security, law and order, does the image formed in one’s mind resemble a nice white family of four with a dog standing in front of their Davis 3bd, 2ba home?  This vision of the ‘regular citizen’ is the primary obstacle to rethinking, reinventing or restructuring policing. It is the vision that many officers, regardless of their own race, dutifully carry around in their own heads during the performance of their duties. It’s the default. It is the problem for which only some kind of structural change can make a difference.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Maybe another way to state this, with all due respect to Dr. Muhammed, is “Do white people in America still believe their interests would be uniquely threatened if policing is not done primarily on their behalf and with the ‘nice white family’ as the model citizens?”

      Personally, I don’t think that’s a “better way” to state it.

        1. Dave Hart

          I’m all for reform and possibly some restructuring.  Dropping this quote in an article claiming to call for ‘evidenced-based’ decision making seems to belie a politically-based intention that could skew the viewing of ‘facts’.

          Which is why I stated it differently.  Most white folks don’t believe people of color have anything to worry about if they’re following the law and behaving just like we white folks. Of course people of color have the same concerns but they are treated differently. Watch the video directly below this post and insert yourself, if you’re white, into the parents position.

        2. Alan Miller

          Most white folks don’t believe people of color have anything to worry about if they’re following the law and behaving just like we white folks.

          Not what I said nor what believe, and I’m Jewish.

    2. Dave Hart

      This video of a traffic stop in Louisville, KY encapsulates so much about the affect of race on policing.  It is a video in which no one is shot or beaten, but the psychological trauma is certainly inflicted and done so intentionally.  This is what is wrong with policing everywhere.  If you’re white, try to imagine going through the same experience as the driver.  Yes, it’s long but worth a half hour of your time:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtQG0JlCORI

      And going back to the beginning of the video, how is that a “wide” right turn?

    3. Keith Olsen

      a nice white family of four with a dog 

      What, do you feel there’s no such thing as “a nice black family of four with a dog “?

      I happen to believe there are.

      1. Dave Hart

        Of course there are.  And Asian and Latinx, families that all want the same things.  The problem is that too many, even a vast majority, of whites don’t have the image of a family that is non-white in their mind as the default.  People of color are seen as “other”.

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