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.
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