By Pavan Potti
DAVIS — Following Item 5, the city staff presentation on their “Reimagining Public Safety” report during the Davis City Council April 6 meeting, public comments were flooded with many Davis residents expressing mixed emotions of hopeful optimism combined with a sense of disappointment.
Through these comments, Davis residents shared their thoughts on the city staff’s report generated in response to the nine recommendations by the Temporary Joint Subcommittee (TJSC), reimagining public safety in Davis. Public commenters also shared their personal experiences with police officers and the importance of establishing help for mental health issues.
Public commenters commended the staff recommendation to remove homeless outreach from the police department, a move which many claimed was a “step in the right direction.”
On the flip side, however, many residents shared their disappointment in learning that the staff response was authored by Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel, whom many believed to be a bad choice due to a conflict of interest. One resident even questioned how Pytel’s involvement with the city staff response was an indication of the disproportionate amount of power held by City Manager Mike Webb.
The focus of the public comments were specifically on the development of a new Department of Public Safety for the City of Davis—an independent department from the police that would assign health professionals to sensitive issues, including service calls related to substance use issues and mental health.
It was at this time where residents of different age groups and backgrounds were able to share their personal stories and further emphasize to the council why they believed the police are inadequate when there are calls associated with mental health.
One resident shared how having a family member with mental health conditions made her realize that someone other than the police department should be dealing with these situations. She said, “What we’re asking for is a transformation for public safety in Davis. I’ve encountered the police a lot due to having a brother with disabilities and I know that police officers are poor substitutes for mental health professionals or others meant to navigate social services. We need a shifting of resources.”
Another resident shared how an unexpected situation that he faced made him realize that he did not have trust in the city’s police department when the issue required a helping hand rather than a hand holding a weapon. Sharing his story he stated, “In February of this year, I was driving down the street and saw someone having a seizure on the side of the road. I pulled over and noticed that the person was a person of color and was in possession of illegal substances. I felt a sense of hesitation to call the cops mostly because that meant someone with a gun would be arriving at the scene.”
A younger resident also made her voice heard, reminding council that being a high school student can be a stressful and scary experience. She stated that mental health issues are common problems for students and it’s important that they receive help in ways that reduce anxiety rather than induce it.
The Davis youth said that “being a 10th grader at Davis High comes with a lot of negative emotions, and sometimes I need help.” Instead of receiving help, she described her interaction with the Davis Police Department, saying that “just last year I needed help but instead I had four officers put me in handcuffs, push me to the wall, and drag me to the hospital. It was an unpleasant experience and made me feel as if I did something wrong. I really hope no one experiences what I had to.”
Beyond bringing in mental health professionals to respond to crises, the Public Safety Department was deemed by many residents as a department which would promote equality for the City, something that is still missing. As one resident quoted, “I find it deeply distressing that African Americans are five times as likely to be pulled over by the police. I witnessed it from friends of mine who were living in my house who experienced it.”
With the strong national uproar stemming from Minnesota resident George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minnesota police officer, many cities like Davis will continue to have big decisions to make regarding public safety—and how city resources can be allocated as efficiently as possible into programs that are more equitable for people of color, and acknowledge and aid those with mental health and substance use issues.
Pavan is a third year student studying Economics, and is from Fremont, California.
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