By David M. Greenwald
As someone who has watched Darren Pytel for the last 15 years, starting when he was a police captain up through his time as police chief, he is a complicated figure—and on Tuesday he positioned himself at times on the progressive end of policing, but at other times not so much.
City Manager Mike Webb was praising his efforts: “Darren Pytel, I applaud him for really being at the forefront of chiefs in Yolo County working to advance this efforts and being a very strong supporter of it.”
I give him decidedly more mixed reviews.
In what follows, I pull from his comments on Tuesday and respond when appropriate.
As noted in the Joint Subcommittee report: “Black people are arrested at a rate 5.9 times more, and Hispanic people 1.5 times more, than their population share; when considering only Davis residents, Black people are arrested at 5.0 times and Hispanic people 1.4 times their population share.”
I was disappointed that no one on council really pushed back on Chief Pytel here when he responded: “I didn’t say it was impossible to benchmark the city, but it is complex because you have to look at many different way to benchmark the data and then extra people who aren’t part of your Yolo County and Davis benchmarks.”
He added, “Until you properly benchmark the data, that’s not necessarily an accurate figure.”
He said, “It would be naive to assume that there is no disparity because all studies have shown—and even properly benchmarked to the state study which is a better benchmarking system, show racial disparity.”
This really isn’t that complex. As I pointed out earlier this week, we have the UC Davis Travel Data and we have the state of the city report, so benchmarking the average daily population in the city of Davis has been done, the university has their ethnic and racial breakdown, and frankly the needle isn’t moved nearly as much.
I thought Pytel was on stronger ground on the Crisis Now/Mental Health stuff.
Some people question whether there is cost savings in these models. It really is going to depend on which model. The chief maintains that they can reduce calls for service by 90 percent and that only 5 to 10 percent of all calls will entail the need for a police response.
Part of the savings here is not going to be a reduction of budget but rather a shift from money spent on law enforcement to money spent on mental health services.
However, Pytel believes that, in a lot of incidents, they don’t even need a physical response, but rather the ability to refer people to the appropriate services.
He told council, “It’s estimated that 90 percent of the people who are in crisis don’t need an actual physical response at the time they make a phone call. They’re reaching out to get services or find out more information to deal with their immediate crisis. That doesn’t necessitate an actual visit by anybody. If we’re able to start diverting 90 percent of the calls in the next month, that would be a huge benefit.”
They would also have their embedded clinician who would be starting soon.
Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs questioned this figure, asking, “90 plus percent of non emergent mental health calls being diverted via usage of a crisis phone line…that seems high. How does that work?”
Pytel responded: “A vast majority of people currently without having crisis lines when they call in and say I’m thinking about killing myself or suicide or depressive thoughts or I feel like hurting somebody or damaging something, right now without any other system in place law enforcement has become by default the responder to that.”
He said they drop them off at the ER.
“What they’re really finding through a lot of good research and through practice at many very large cities is that a vast majority of people even when they’re having that type of crisis don’t need anybody showing up at their front door. What they really need is somebody who is able to talk to them… and then offer services ,” he said.
“Law Enforcement only becomes involved in the rare cases where the mobile crisis team determines that based on the nature of the threat… that a duel response is needed.”
That is a duel response where law enforcement waits for the crisis team before responding. It’s really an integrated program.
Pytel continues, stating that we deal with unhoused who suffer from mental health crises, “which oh by the way, is a driver to some of our crime in Davis.”
Pytel said “we are really working with the county on the existing 24/7 crisis line to try to start diverting as many calls as possible very quickly. That will be happening probably in the next month or so.
“If a crime is in progress, under all of the models we contemplate there is going to be a law enforcement response to do some minimal amount of making the situation safe and then involving mental health services.”
He noted that in the Built Out Model it has a location to take people for ER and a location for people who have committed crimes.
He said, “Let’s say you have someone who’s in crisis but also does a minor crime, rather than take him to jail, which we all can agree that that’s not a really good way to deal with a lot of people, you would instead take him to the facility that would immediately start working on the mental health part of it.”
This was probably Pytel at his best, recognizing that, for a lot of crimes, it really doesn’t do us a lot of good put someone in a jail. I’m not sure a lot of people picked up on that comment, but that was quite persuasive.
While I think Pytel’s thinking here is a lot more progressive than most others in law enforcement, there is another piece that a lot of people are going to miss.
When you think about the notion of Reimaging Policing (if we want to get away from the idea of Defunding the Police), one of the points is not to run mental health services through the police department and this model and conception continues to do so.
Why not allow mental health to run the show here and call on the police when they need an armed response or when there is a dangerous crime in progress that cannot be handled through a mental health professional?
To put this another way, this model is an improvement over what we have now where police show up, they have no particular skill and really only the ability to arrest or take to ER for a 5150 hold. But we can take this another step and remove the police from the response completely, except in those 5 to 10 percent of incidents where it requires it.
Finally, Pytel still really doesn’t seem to understand unconscious bias and systemic racism.
He gave this long explanation to Gloria Partida.
First he acknowledged answering Partida’s question from December poorly.
As he explained, “The analysis of our arrest data shows that people of color have more charges.”
He said, “At the time I said, it kind of doesn’t matter because the DA is the one that charges. That’s still actually a right answer, it just didn’t answer your question. It really is the officer who determines what the charges are for arrest. But we actually don’t charge somebody, the DA’s office does.
“It’s a recommendation,” he continued.
But that’s not as important as what he explained next when he tried to understand, “what’s the deal of still having disparity in stop data after agencies—us and other agencies—have invested so much time and energy into unconscious bias training?”
He fashioned an explanation: “It kind of hit me… basically (what) I believe is we never actually bridged the gap between what unconscious bias training was supposed to do to bring issues to the conscious realm from the unconscious realm and how that affects decision making in the law enforcement process.
“An officer sees someone go through a stop sign and that’s a legitimate violation and something an officer can stop them for. In unconscious bias training, a lot is talked about if you’re going to stop a person, here’s all the biases that may take effect and can impact thinking,” he said.
But as Pytel points out, “Studies don’t show that unconscious training doesn’t change the stop data and the racial inequities. Also doesn’t prevent those rapid decision-making.
“Unconscious bias training should translate to officers making more conscious decisions when there’s time—and 99 percent of the time, there’s time to consider what is it that I’m doing during this stop that may negatively impact a person and ends up just feeding the machine for the sake of feeding the machine (ie the entire criminal justice system) .”
He continued, “I think everybody would agree that there’s disparity in the criminal justice system.”
He said over the next year he wants to see if they can “individually bridge that gap and see if we can make those unconscious biases that everybody is affected by and see if the officers can bring that to conscious realm and make different decisions in every single stop or contact.”
Unfortunately, Chief Pytel still doesn’t understand the nature the problem here.
The first thing is that a lot of times, people aren’t being stopped because they committed a moving violation. The bias happens because of things they talk about before—looking for cars that are out of place, cars that are in worse shape, running plates and things from that, and stopping people on the basis of these non-safety violations.
This is where Berkeley stepped in and basically said no, unless it’s something that’s a safety hazard, you shouldn’t be using those pretexts for stops. Pytel, by using the stop sign running as the rationale for pulling over the vehicle, completely brackets that discussion and never discusses the Berkeley model and no one on council asks him about it.
Second, he runs through this litany after the stop: license and registration, they run the driver’s license, they find that the guy is on probation and use that as a reason to search.
Two responses here show the shortcoming.
First is the response to probation—just because you can search someone, doesn’t mean you have to search someone. One reason that the hit rate on searches is so much lower in all the studies for Blacks versus whites is that police are using evidence-based reasons to search whites but procedural reasons to search Black, some of which is probably based on who they are rather than the circumstances of the request to search.
This was never discussed or addressed by Pytel, but is a huge part of the implicit bias that somehow needs to impact policing.
But the second problem and reason why implicit bias training is not going to solve these disparities is that Pytel continues to implicitly assume that this is about individual actions of police rather than systemic racism.
In the probation example as a prerequisite to a search, we already have systemic racism baked in without the officer having to acknowledge it. The disparity between whites and Blacks being on probation in the first place.
Maybe you can shift your operating assumptions, as he touches on but doesn’t really explore, but until you deal with the systemic problems there are always going to be huge disparities.
In the end, the council is moving in the right direction. They may have taken more steps. But I think, looking at the discussion, there are key problems here that still need to be addressed in some way.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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