By Zohd Khan
DAVIS — Local civic organizations Yolo People Power and Indivisible Yolo hosted an online presentation and subsequent discussion on Policing and Public Safety in Davis.
The presentation, given by a volunteer research team who closely documented the joint subcommittee process, offered a report on the nine recommendations the joint subcommittee made for reimagining public safety in Davis.
To start, researcher Caitlin French offered a timeline of the events that have transpired since the formation of the Temporary Joint Subcommittee (TJS) back on June 16, 2020.
As French noted, the TJS was formed in response to pleas made by Davis residents to “divest from police and reinvest in social services” following the murder of George Floyd.
Over the next several months, the TJS held monthly meetings to discuss certain recommendations, gather community input and conduct research.
On November 18, they released the results of their work, which included the report of the nine recommendations that the research team discussed during this specific presentation.
The report specifically recommended preventative measures, early intervention and quick response as the keys to an approach to public safety.
Furthermore, French explained how the social issues of highest concern are homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse. These issues are often seen to overlap, as 33 percent of the unhoused experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and 32 percent were found to struggle with substance abuse disorders.
These social issues were also seen to disproportionately affect certain populations, such as the Latinx, African-American, Native American and LGBTQ+ communities.
The report acknowledges that the current social services in Davis are falling short of needs, which explains why “the case for a revolution in behavioral health care is clear and urgent.”
Given this background, fellow researcher Morgan Poindexter proceeded to discuss the first and second recommendations report.
The first recommendation is to “determine why racial disparities in arrests, recommended charges, and stops exist in Davis.”
By analyzing five years of Davis Police Department (DPD) data, the TJS found that disparities exist in the rate of stops, arrests by police and recommended charges. These conclusions were supported by data from the DPD Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) Report.
As the RIPA report revealed, Black and Hispanic populations are stopped by police at much higher rates than other races. The data showed that 20.9 percent of total stopped drivers were Hispanic, and 9.3 percent were Black. These percentages are high given the fact that hispanics and blacks are a relatively smaller portion of the Davis population.
Data on arrests showed similar trends, as Black people in Davis were arrested 5.9 times more often that the nationwide average, and Hispanics were arrested at 1.5 times the rate. These rates were adjusted given each demographic’s population share in Davis.
The first recommendation’s main point is that although we can clearly see that these racial disparities exist in Davis, there is not a clear answer as to why. Therefore, that is one question that may be valuable for the city to look into.
Poindexter continued on with the second recommendation, which is to “encourage the DPD to dialogue with the PAC on the content of the DPD’s Use of Force Policy”.
The report included potential talking points during a conversation between the DPD and the PAC. These were the elaboration on de-escalation techniques, the adoption of more restrictive guidelines on deadly force and the prohibition of physical force upon fleeing subjects who do not pose any active threat.
The third recommendation, which was presented by Julea Shaw, is to “evaluate the impact of de-escalation, crisis intervention, procedural justice, and implicit bias training.”
As Shaw explained, this evaluation could be done specifically on the DPD, as members of the DPD already undergo crisis intervention, implicit bias and procedural justice training.
The overall hope of these tests is that they will allow for “exploration of evidence based improvements so that we can get the outcomes that we would like from these trainings.”
The fourth recommendation is to “shift non-violent service calls to unarmed personnel.” This recommendation was encouraged following revision of data which showed that DPD members have to respond to a range of 13 different call types.
Furthermore, the data revealed that only four percent of calls are considered dangerous or potentially violent for the responders. This statistic explains why the TJS believed that a shift in personnel would be necessary, as the majority of calls would not require responders to be armed in any way and thereby increase the risk of casualties or accidents.
Suggested areas to consider shifting to unarmed personnel included code enforcement, property theft, and minor traffic violations.
The fifth recommendation is to “reinvent the police-community conversation.” As Shaw stated, this recommendation focuses on “soliciting public input and also building trust between the police and the community.”
Past public efforts to build this trust include when the City engaged a consultant in 2013 to facilitate dialogue sessions between community groups and DPD. These efforts resulted in the creation of several programs, such as the Alternative Conflict Resolution Process and meetings with marginalized groups.
These programs eventually became underutilized as interest declined over time. This “decline” in interest highlights the central issue, as Shaw explained how Davis has suffered a “cyclical pattern” where negative policing leads to temporary reform, but then passivity, only for the cycle to repeat with another policing incident.
Therefore, the commissioners suggested that we need “an ongoing community engagement process” that is confidential (for trust) and includes an evaluation component to measure our progress in public relations. This could hopefully lead to more permanent change and reform in Davis.
The TJS’s sixth recommendation, which was presented by researcher Jordan Varney, is to offer “restorative remedies for minor, victimless offenses,” rather than resorting to excessively harsh punishments.
Further expanding on this point, the report recommends that the “DPD decriminalize as many minor offenses as possible, especially victimless offenses.”
Alternatives include a warm hand off program to Communicare, and Varney stated that “both the DPD and Communicare are willing to revisit the possibility of a COVID-safe warm hand off program.”
It is also recommended that specialty courts are expanded and prioritized as a method to divert people from incarceration.
This recommendation was further supported by rigorous evaluations of the courts, which showed reductions in arrests and other positive outcomes.
The seventh recommendation is that “the city should work with county partners to build an integrated, “Crisis Now”- type model for behavioral health emergencies.
As Varney explained, Davis is a “model system” for Crisis Now since it has the ideal conditions for a diverse approach to the behavioral crisis response. These ideal conditions include the low violent crime rate, strong social relationships (DPD, county, etc.) and high awareness of crises in Davis.
A “Crisis Now” type model would bolster the options for crisis response. This could include trained ambulance and co-responder teams with 24/7 availability. Furthermore, this system would have a “crisis call hub” and better health facilities to ensure that callers would have a reliable response system.
The eighth recommendation was to “expand the City’s community navigator workforce”.
Varney emphasized the importance of community navigators, stating they “create a foundation of trust between the client and the entirety of the care team.” Furthermore, knowledgeable navigators are helpful in helping clients access certain welfare services.
The final recommendation discussed in the presentation was to “commit to a vision of reimagined public safety.” To do this, the TJS believed that the city needs to address social service needs and take action against racial disparities.
In terms of specific changes, the TJS proposed a new department model where social services and non-violent aspects of public safety are placed under the control of a new city agency separate from the DPD. A new structure model, where all public safety services are placed under a single umbrella agency, was also suggested.