Sunday Commentary: We Are Not Going Far Enough

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

By David M. Greenwald

Davis, CA – This weekend in her monthly Vanguard column Mayor Gloria Partida pushed back a bit against activists stating, “The City continues to advance towards a new way of delivering public safety in Davis,” while at the same time acknowledging that, “The pace of that progress has been a point of contention for some in our community.”

The Mayor goes on to say, “For this topic, it has been clear from the beginning that this is not a fringe issue here or nationally. It is also not in dispute that this can have positive life changing impacts if done correctly. What has been a source of frustration is the disconnect between the community and city council’s perception of progress towards this common goal.”

She believes “This process takes time” – and that they are going about it the right way through commissions and public hearings.

With that said, I am not sure that the chief complaint is speed, but rather a tangible demonstration of commitment.  For my part, having watched this process for the long haul, 15 years now, I would say that I believe that council is committed to change, but moving cautiously and deliberately in that direction.

The public process has been overwhelmingly dominated by reformers.

However, at the meeting on Tuesday, the Mayor noted that, while the comments that evening were one-sided, “In the people who didn’t call in this evening, there are people who are concerned about money being taken away from the police department.  It is important that we are balanced in how we go forward here.”

Her point was that there are people in Davis who believe the council has moved ahead of large segments of the community on this issue.  I’m not sure that’s true.  What we have seen in polling nationally suggests that the changes that the city is currently considering – moving mental health services outside of armed police response – not only have the support of most of the public, but most police officers believe this is the way to go as well.

The police professionals acknowledge they are not the ones best equipped in a mental health crisis.  How a better mental health crisis model looks, of course, is a matter open for discussion.  I think the police would probably prefer a co-responder model while the activists prefer something more like Crisis Now or CAHOOTS.

The creation of a Department of Public Safety with management level positions will demonstrate the city’s commitment to toward relocating key services away from an armed police response.  By centering homeless services in the city manager’s office rather than the police, it demonstrates a commitment to stop the trend of criminalizing homelessness.

Davis is hardly alone in this respect.  This week, the Oakland City Council voted to pull about $18 million from a proposed police budget to fund violence prevention.

As local reports noted, however, “the council actually increased the police department’s spending by $9 million from $665 million to about $674 million, according to a staff report. As a result, the police department’s share of the budget will now be 18% instead of the current 20%.

“But the amount approved was $18 million less than what Schaaf had proposed in the original budget she presented to the council.”

“It seems as if we are throwing so much money at the police department, without any clear outcomes,” one Oakland resident said.

The move comes two months after Oakland became the latest city to look to take police out of responses to nonviolent mental health, drug and alcohol, or homeless crises.

They are implementing a program called Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, or MACRO.

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan explained that “sending police to mental health and behavioral calls they are not trained to handle is a grave mistake cities keep repeating.”

“Those cases often go very badly and sometimes horrifically,” she says. “We have seen horrific deaths, killings by police throughout the nation when they’ve been called for matters that deal with mental health or homelessness or public intoxication — or any of these matters that are not a violent crime — and should be better handled by a non-police response.”

Most seem on board with this.  But for me the biggest problem facing Davis Police is not mental health calls but rather police stops.

Places like Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco are considering ways reduce racial inequity in police stops.  In February, the Berkeley City Council implementing one of the more sweeping changes to eliminate police stops for low-level, non-public safety related offenses such as failing to wear a seat belt or driving with expired license plate tags.

San Francisco is now considering similar changes including traffic stops, jaywalking and loitering detentions, and consent searches.

They are calling on the city to change the law to to eliminate “quality of car” stops, such as license plate violations, broken taillights, tinted windows, and any registration expirations less than 6 months old.

Political Science Professor Frank Baumgartner at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who studies policing and policing tactics, labels traffic stops a “needle-in-the-haystack strategy” to detect crime and “an incredible waste of effort.”

The language notes: “These stops, without additional suspected criminal activity or probable cause, become pretextual … and do little to increase public safety, harm community relations, and are a waste of resources. Far too often these pretextual stops cause those already fearful of law enforcement to flee, leading to unnecessary force or violence.”

These are being targeted because “they have a disproportionate impact on Black people.”

And for the most part, they do not impact public safety and are not effective in stopping crime.

Further, “Absent other obvious criminal activity, a detention to issue a citation for jaywalking, loitering, or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is unnecessary when a verbal warning will suffice.”

Analysis of SFPD stop data “shows that for every 1,000 Black adults, 42.6 received a citation for violating a local ordinance for a non-traffic stop while white adults received just 9.5 citations for every 1,000.”

Finally, they would end consent searches which disproportionately impact Black and Brown people. One author described consent searches as “essentially random searches (at best) and are only marginally effective when compared to other readily available and less-intrusive investigative tactics.”

Empirical data on SFPD searches supports this notion.

“The 96A report for the 4th Quarter shows that Black and Brown people make up approximately 40% of consent searches, yet the yield rates between White and Black demographics remain nearly identical,” SFPD said.  In other words, “SFPD officers are about as likely to find contraband on Black drivers as White drivers even though they ask to search Black drivers at disproportionate rates.”

These findings mirror national data that I have cited numerous times in previous columns.

The numbers in Davis also reflect all of these same patterns, which are indications of a policing culture of “make arrests” rather than a policing culture of “helping people.”

Regarding the Mayor’s cautionary comments, making that policing culture change should not be a problem for the citizens who have expressed a concern about  money being taken away from the police department, while at the same time making real progress toward addressing the concerns of the reformers.

“The percentage of Hispanic and Black arrestees in Davis over the 2015-19 period is strongly disproportionate to the population shares of these groups in the City, a finding which holds even when considering arrests of Davis residents only,” the Temporary Joint Subcommittee concluded last year.

The numbers at the local level are stunning: “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.”

The joint subcommittee reports that both sets of figures far exceed the racial disparity in arrests in the United States as a whole—and I would add, worse than the statewide average as well.

It goes further: “Similar racial inequalities hold with respect to the overall number of recommended charges filed by Davis Police Department (DPD) officers in the city, and Hispanic and Black people are also subject to traffic-related stops and searches at a much higher rate than their respective population shares in Davis (though roughly proportional to regional population shares).”

But despite this, Davis has yet to attempt to address these concerns – which again for me, are the most troubling.

I am fine with biting off Crisis Now and creating a public safety department, but to get to real reform and transformative change, we must go further.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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25 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    The public process has been overwhelmingly dominated by reformers.

    However, at the meeting on Tuesday, the Mayor noted that, while the comments that evening were one-sided

    Yes, the public comments were very well organized.  It has come to my attention that there was a template floating around which outlined how to address the council and which demands to make.  David, do you have any knowledge of this?  I’ve asked you this three times now with no response.  Do you not have any knowledge or do you know and don’t wan’t to say?

    1. David Greenwald

      Talking points. Yes, definitely using talking points. Just as both sides used talking points on the housing public comments two weeks ago.

        1. David Greenwald

          I don’t them myself, but it’s a very common practice, probably get half a dozen a day from various groups urging emails and calls on various matters.

          1. David Greenwald

            Downplay suggests that I think it’s a big deal, but I’m trying to minimize it. I don’t think it’s a big deal, why do you think otherwise?

    2. Matt Williams

      Keith you can find one version of talking points on Facebook in the nonpartisan Davis Ballot Talk group discussion.

      Any talking points that I have seen have been from individuals expressing their strong feelings and exhorting others who feel the same way to not remain silent.

      It is certainly possible that the “silent majority” in Davis feels police reform is necessary.

      There definitely were talking points being circulated by both sides in the Measure B campaign where the DISC proposal was defeated. There definitely are talking points being circulated by both sides in the current Prop 218 ballot for Storm Sewer rates.

      What is your problem with talking points?

    3. Tia Will

      Keith

      I am glad you brought this up again. The issue of the existence of a “template” is a rumor, not a fact. I have been part of groups working on effecting these changes for the past 10 years. The idea that there was a “template” stems, I believe, from the fact that the recommendations were based on eight recommendations, the “eight can’t wait” referenced by Mayor Partida. Of course when what is being recommended can be broken down to eight specific recommendations, it will have the appearance of a template simply based on the existence of a list of recommendations. The points made will be repetitive.  I do not believe there is a “template” in circulation, but if you find it, please post it and I will admit my error.

  2. Don Shor

    So there are nine recommendations (see below), but “eight can’t wait” — which one isn’t included?

    The joint subcommittee recommendations are summarized below:
    1.      Determine why racial disparities in arrests, recommended charges, and stops exist in Davis.
    2.      Encourage the Davis Police Department to dialogue with the Police Accountability Commission (PAC) on the content of its Use of Force policy.
    3.      Evaluate the impact of de-escalation, crisis intervention, procedural justice, and implicit bias trainings.
    4.      Shift non-violent service calls to unarmed personnel.
    5.      Reinvent the police-community conversation.
    6.      De-prioritize, decriminalize, and offer restorative remedies for minor, victimless offenses through warm hand-off programs, an expansion of the specialty court system, and other measures.
    7.      Work with County partners to build an integrated, “Crisis Now” -type model for behavioral health emergencies.
    8.      Expand the City’s community navigator workforce.
    9.      Commit to a vision of reimagined public safety.

    #6 is the one I’ve expressed serious concerns about due to some of the offenses being considered for response by non-sworn personnel.

  3. Don Shor

    I’ve seen ‘talking points’ at many council meetings. At one of the Nishi meetings a couple of dozen union members showed up; each walked up to the podium carrying a note card and they all said almost exactly the same thing. There were a bunch of students there who did the same with their ‘talking points’. There’s nothing nefarious about it. Certainly I’ve seen calls to action on growth issues circulated on various well-known email lists locally.

    Here’s the Davis Ballot Talk page call to action:

    TWO MINUTES for your DAVIS COMMUNITY!
    In March, the Davis community made public comments for 1.5 hours! Incredible! Let’s beat that record, call in today, before 6:30pm…
    To leave a comment (maximum 2 MINUTES) :
    -Call (530) 757-5693
    -Give your name, say how long you’ve lived in town, and say that you’re commenting on ITEM 8 – Budget Adoption
    -Say any or all of these ideas:
    a) Tell the city council why an independent Public Safety Department will be important in your life (support people with mental health issues, rather than add further trauma)
    b) Tell the city council that you expect them to put their money where their mouth is and pass a budget that fulfills on their commitment to re-imagine policing and public safety.
    c) Remind the city council that the community demands they shift investments from policing to social science-based community health and safety.
    d) Demand no new police funding and a fully-funded Public Safety Department with a broad mandate.
    1. Alan Miller

      And there it is 😐

      TWO MINUTES for your DAVIS COMMUNITY!

      I don’t think there’s anything nefarious about talking points, more it’s annoying and time wasting.  If you can’t put things into your own words, don’t bother calling.

      In March, the Davis community made public comments for 1.5 hours! Incredible! Let’s beat that record, call in today, before 6:30pm…

      And there’s the real problem:  TWO MINUTES, and let’s try to waste everyone’s time for more than 1.5 hours – yay!  Who is the genius who thinks wasting the entire communities’, staff and council time for hours hearing the same talking points is a good idea?  Or that by taking up all of public comment with your side, you are going to ‘win’ ?

      It’s one thing when you have to go to Chambers, spend a couple of hours, and dedicate yourself to something you care about.  It filters out the chaff.  But realize something here:

      ALL THOSE PEOPLE ONLY HAD TO SPEND TWO MINUTES READING OFF A CARD.

      They didn’t have to attend the meeting, they didn’t have to sit through ceremonies, the didn’t have to go to chambers, didn’t have to listen to the staff report, probably never heard any comments or vote, and there was no commitment to the cause with their precious time.

      And so now Council has a problem.  We will be going back to live meetings soon.  Will we allow public comment in the current style – where people just call in and leave a comment that can be read later, having not heard the staff presentation or Council comments, having no commitment other than two minutes on the phone?

      God I hope not!

      Can you imagine sitting in Council Chambers and listening to ‘more than 1.5 hours’ of public comment by phone being piped through a speaker?  And yet there will be calls for ‘wider participation from the community’.  Gag me with a spoon.

      We must separate out this comment chaff.  It will ruin council meetings and public input.

      In the very least, people must be ‘with’ the meetings on line and give their comments live.  Other communities do it.  All over one initial zoom bombing incident, we go to an even more troublesome method as a ‘cure’, and never move past it.

      No recorded public comments!  Stop this dumb practice.

      Thank you for watching.  I’m Alan Miller.

  4. Alan Miller

    Her point was that there are people in Davis who believe the council has moved ahead of large segments of the community on this issue.  I’m not sure that’s true.

    Are you so sure it’s NOT true?

  5. Alan Miller

    Places like Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco are considering ways reduce racial inequity in police stops.  In February, the Berkeley City Council implementing one of the more sweeping changes to eliminate police stops for low-level, non-public safety related offenses such as failing to wear a seat belt or driving with expired license plate tags.

    That is so dumb.  What makes much more sense it to eliminate the laws, not fail to enforce them.  The cure to inequities in enforcement due to racial bias isn’t to eliminate enforcement.  That’s like fixing the safety of future space missions after the Challenger explosion by eliminating the Space Program:  problem solved  😐

  6. Alan Miller

    but most police officers believe this is the way to go as well.

    How do most police officers feel about “Abolish the Police”.  When we’d bring up the clouded meaning of “Defund the Police”, we’d hear ‘oh it doesn’t mean defund, really’.  Then in Central Park, there’s a sign that says “Abolish the Police”, not removed, at the same rallies that the ‘reformers’ attend.  What does “Abolish the Police” mean?  I’ve asked several times to no answer.  Does it mean ‘not really abolish the police’ ?  I don’t see how that’s possible.

    Why don’t those who want mental health services moved to a new agency take down the “Abolish the Police” signs?  Do they believe that by catering to the extremists in their midst and alienating City Staff, Council and a good chunk of the community that they are helping the cause of creating a mental health response team?  Or do they actually want to abolish the police?  You see, it gets all muddled — what you really really want — and you end up hurting the movement toward a worthy reform that many of us want to see happen.

    One way to cure a headache is to stab yourself in the eye with a long knife.  That doesn’t mean it’s a wise strategy.

      1. Alan Miller

        Not my point . . .  I’ll just save you the time and when you change the meaning of my point by using a question, I’ll just say “NMP” 😐

        1. David Greenwald

          You mentioned abolish the police five times in your post. That seems to me a red herring that is not actually part of the proposal, hence my question irrespective of whatever YOUR point may be.

        2. Alan Miller

          Do you want me to say no proposal abolishes the police?  “No proposal abolishes the police”.

          My point is, clearly, before deflection, that aligning the movement and displaying signs that say “Abolish the Police” and photographing those and using those photos in articles in your blog, hurts the movement of reform such as a mental health response unit, because swaths of the public then associate reform not with a mental health unit, but people who want to abolish the police.  That’s why I say it hurts the cause.

          And you still haven’t explained what “Abolish the Police” really really means.  So tell me what it means, what it really really means.

          1. David Greenwald

            Abolish the police is a pretty radical concept, although I recently read some very interesting policies that might be feasible if unlikely. It actually does mean to get rid of the policing institution as we know it and replace it with a different structure. For most, it doesn’t mean no law enforcement system at all.

            Defunding the police is closer to what is being proposed here and it means moving some functions of law enforcement to non-law enforcement – mental health, homeless services, the like.

        3. Keith Olsen

          So tell me what it means, what it really really means.

          I think the spin you’ll hear is that it doesn’t mean what it actually says.

           

           

    1. Bill Marshall

      Well… I agree as far as the phone thing… but written and/or e-mail comments should still be allowed, and put into the record… hopefully at least 24 hours before the start of the meeting… they need not be ‘read’ into the record, but should be part of the record, and taken into consideration…

      But not the ‘call-in’, or real-time e-mail…

  7. Bill Marshall

    Interesting story in Bee today (not sure how to provide cite link)… so many gov’t entities are looking at diverting resources to qualified SS/MH therapists… there is a dearth of them… Sac has 11 positions funded… can only fill 6… guess who can pay more… Davis, or Sac…

    Something to consider… goes to demand and supply (inversion intended)…

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