By Pavan Potti
During the recent Vanguard’s webinar on Jan. 14, three temporary joint subcommittee members, Cecilia-Escamilla-Greenwald, Emma O’Rourke-Powell and Bapu Vaitla, discussed their experiences in committees, the process of establishing reports with statistical data and the recommendations they proposed for a less racially-biased police force for the city of Davis.
What soon became apparent, however, was that the process to diminish systemic racism through better policing systems serves only as a stepping stone towards a much bigger issue.
The webinar began with the three panelists sharing what they wanted to achieve by drafting their report titled “Reimagining Public Safety in Davis.”
According to Escamilla-Greenwald and O’Rourke-Powell, the main goal of the report was to use national statistical data and share experiences to promote better decision making, especially for the long term. Vaitla, on the other hand, admitted that while there were goals which became a little more apparent as the report expanded, there were no initial goals that were well defined.
Vaitla also elaborated on how the process of creating the report was frustrating but simultaneously an interesting experience. He reflected upon a repetitive first few meetings which included a lot of analysis on what the subcommittee wanted to see as potential output. The establishment of the report also called for two meetings with the police department, as well as discussions with council members, county officials and public/private service providers.
The subcommittee members also explained that one of the key recommendations was to get social services more involved in arrests related to mental health issues. Escamilla-Greenwald claimed that this idea was met with skepticism by the police department, who deemed social services unfit for scenarios in which a mental health patient may be carrying a weapon.
The subcommittee members stated that they understood this to be a valid concern and consequently made efforts to see how well the police and social services could coexist in these scenarios. The desired outcome here, according to Escamilla-Greenwald, is to avoid having a person with a weapon arrive at the scene of a mental health issue.
As the topic of the webinar moved more towards the productivity of bias training for the police department, members of the webinar audience asked why the subcommittee members continued to have faith in the training when statistics around the nation displayed results of inefficiency.
In response, the panelists acknowledged that there has indeed been mixed results from bias training and that it is also important for the public to learn training as well. Additionally, the members acknowledged how it was more important than ever for training to occur considering the current tensions between the community and police.
More efficiency in training, according to the panelists, would occur if the police were more invested in the development of the communities. With many officers living in different areas from their jurisdiction, this has proven to be a little difficult.
When asked about the overall effects of systemic racism on the city, all three panelists were keen on emphasizing how better policing policies would only tackle a small part of the bigger problem. While police practices can be seen as the easiest lens to see racism through, there are other ways through which racism has left its mark.
The major example given here by the panelists included observation of which particular citizens of the city had access to affordable housing, as well as access to general and necessary resources.
In explaining how the problem of systemic racism is much bigger than it appears, the panelists advocated for more of the public to get involved in proposing changes to the community, something which the committee members promised to be more easier since meetings are starting to take place in different parts of the community for more active engagement.