By Iliana Magana and Jordan Varney
DAVIS — At the April 6 Davis City Council meeting, council discussed and took action on the staff report generated in response to the nine recommendations of the Temporary Joint Subcommittee (TJSC) reimagining public safety in Davis. When the council opened for questions, councilmembers were able to voice their concerns to Davis Chief of Police, Darren Pytel.
Chief Pytel spoke about the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) piloting the first model of Crisis Hub, a crisis communication hotline, that will allow less law enforcement involvement in cases regarding mental health crises. He stated “90 percent of the people that are in crisis don’t need an actual physical response at the time they make the phone call,” so therefore, he explained, mental health crises dialed to the police department, if not emergencies, would be diverted to Crisis Hub.
Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs questioned, “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?”
Chief Pytel responded, “A vast majority of people don’t actually need anybody showing up at their front door. What they really need is someone who is able to talk to them…and offer them services.” Chief Pytel mentioned that the hotline is able to have a clinician speak to the person in crisis and assist in scheduling future counseling appointments.
Vice Mayor Frerichs expressed concern about the lack of human interaction with 90 percent or more calls being diverted to the hotline by saying “there is still a need for human interaction.”
Chief Pytel mentioned that sworn personnel were still available to be dispatched, but that “people don’t need law enforcement showing up at their front doors and making the situation worse.”
Councilmember Dan Carson spoke about adults needing healthcare. He mentioned how the county has “the ability to get people into medical services.” He explained that “they’ve got the mechanisms to get people into, not just the crisis care, but ongoing healthcare that they need.”
When speaking about the Crisis Hotline, Carson assessed it by saying that “this has the potential to divert hundreds and hundreds of calls away from armed response Davis officers to trained social workers and mental health clinicians.”
Chief Pytel added, “[W]e are really working with the county on the existing 24/7 crisis line to start diverting as many calls as possible, very quickly. That will happen in the next month or so.”
Councilmember Josh Chapman wanted to know how a civilian can help someone in crisis, without having to be directed to a hotline. “How does that fit into it, if we only have one clinician coming on board?” he asked, referencing the current funding set aside by the City for a clinician position. “We need someone who can respond,” he emphasized, expressing concern about only one clinician responding to calls, mentioning that hotlines tend to get busy and people in crisis need to be able to receive help without delay.
Chief Pytel responded by saying that each city, Davis, Woodland, Sacramento, would have their own clinician responding to calls made to the hotline. He stated that “each agency will have their own clinicians, West Sac receives the highest number of calls.”
Mayor Partida inquired about the circumstances in which police officers conduct traffic stops and run plates. She specifically wanted to know if the department checks for patterns among officers in whom they choose to stop.
Chief Pytel explained that there are different instances in which officers check plates to make sure drivers do not have other stops or past crimes. He said “we didn’t see any outliers…we didn’t see anything that was statistically significant.”
Chief Pytel went on to say that officers check plates especially at night. His reasoning was that Davis has a car theft problem, and that similar models of cars are usually targeted. He said that “we have officers that go through apartment complexes and parking lots around town and run plates on cars that look out of place, meaning that they look like they have a punched ignition or look like they have windows broken.”
Once the council was done asking Chief Pytel questions, they moved on to voicing their positions on the recommendations at hand.
Mayor Partida thanked the committees and commissions that worked on the reports as well as the police department. She stated that she is “very interested in the success of these nine recommendations,” and that she would like to receive updates within six months of how much they have progressed.
Mayor Partida suggested that Recommendation 1 be reframed to “how to decrease racial disparities in arrest and recommended charges, because as the Chief mentioned, we know that the disparities exist, and some of that is due to racial bias.”
Mayor Partida emphasized the need to create safe spaces for people to come forward, especially people of color. She also expressed concern about how much could happen within the police department itself, mentioning a new department instead.
“I do have serious concerns around how much this will increase equity, safety, and better relationships with the police,” she said. She mentioned that in a new department, “without continued training and check ins…I see the old problems of equity and bias creeping into any new system.”
Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs noted how there have been numerous steps taken over the years in order to make Davis a more inclusive community. He expressed appreciation for the work of the TJSC.
Frerichs’ position regarding racial disparity was that he wants to use the tools that he has as Vice Mayor and policy maker to “improve upon, and fix this issue, so that people of color don’t experience issues like these in Davis in the future.” He also expressed his support for a new public health department to take over code enforcement, and be separate from the police department.
Councilmember Will Arnold told a personal story about how his in-laws are nervous to visit Davis and that he benefits from white privilege and the privilege of being known in town. He indicated his dedication to addressing racism in Davis saying, “I am committed. I am ready to do the work to implement the recommendations of the Temporary Joint Subcommittee. I am ready to do the work to take bold steps in reimagining and improving how we provide public community safety for our community members.”
Councilmember Arnold also said he would like to lead the subcommittee on this topic by stating that this is what he is “incredibly passionate about.”
Councilmember Carson disagreed with the three previous councilmembers, saying, “I am very nervous about the idea of creating a new department that we don’t have the resources to sustain in the long run.
“To me,” he continued, “the county is, in a way… HHSA is a part of that solution.” He expressed, however, that he wanted the research to be done about a new department and he was interested in what the findings would be.
Councilmember Chapman said that he did not want to move things out of the police department if it was just for “optics.” He posed the question, “What are we trying to accomplish by moving those into a different department? What is the problem that we are solving by moving code enforcement out of PD, into a different department?”
Councilmember Chapman suggested appointing one person to be in charge of public health issues, instead of creating a new department.
After the council expressed their opinions on the TJSC recommendations and staff report, they discussed the motions they would put forward and vote on.
A few actions were eventually taken. Council voted to create two subcommittees—Councilmember Arnold and Mayor Partida are on a subcommittee that will investigate what current non-sworn functions of the police department can be moved to other city departments, while Vice Mayor Frerichs and Councilmember Chapman are on a subcommittee that will work with county partners and HHSA to implement social services programs. The council also discussed meeting with the director of HHSA as a full group.
Additionally, the council approved the recommendations and considerations from the staff report with some wording and slight focus changes. The police department’s request for $30,000 for “education reimbursement for staff” is among the recommendations being considered.
Possibly the most notable recommendation passed was to move the homeless services section of non-sworn personnel out of the police department and into the city manager’s office.
Council did not vote on the creation of a new independent Public Safety Department, which was the focus of public comment and the recent Open Letter.
Jordan Varney received her masters from UC Davis in Psychology and her B.S. in Computer Science from Harvey Mudd. Varney is co-editor of the City Desk for the Vanguard at UC Davis.
Iliana Magana is a student writer with the Vanguard at UC Davis
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