By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The council on Tuesday unanimously approved the filling of two vacant sworn police officer positions – positions that were frozen last year – over the objections of a number of activists who spoke during public comment.
When COVID first hit, the city responded to revenue drops by making significant cuts across all departments, including $1 million in reductions to the police department, primarily through the freezing of several positions that were vacant at the time.
The positions that drew the attention on Tuesday were a corporal and an officer.
“The Police Department has been significantly challenged with maintaining minimum staffing as a result of multiple staff out on injury/disability leave, attrition, and authorized protected leaves,” the staff report noted. “Without increasing the allocation of positions to compensate for those out on extended leaves as well as dealing with position vacancies and rolling attrition, the City will continue to have difficulties maintaining minimum staffing levels, which leaves both the community and current employees vulnerable.”
The city manager requested that the council reinstate one corporal, one officer and a dispatcher (non-sworn).
The staff report added, “As we emerge from the impacts of COVID when temporary reductions in staffing levels were more feasible, police related activity has been picking up in very visible ways with a recent rash of burglary and vandalism activities.”
Connor Gorman was one of several callers who asked the city to “defund the police” and “redirect those funds into public safety.”
“I’m opposed to adding any additional armed sworn police officers to the city of Davis Police Department’s city budget,” Gorman, a former council candidate said. “I believe those funds would be better used in other ways, such as in the new department of Social Services and Housing, or in other similar and related programs.”
He added, “I understand that these positions are ones that were previously budgeted, but I believe that the city should honor previous statements around permanently removing these positions from the budget.”
Another comment said, “I am really frustrated that we’re talking about adding police instead of dealing with housing and social services issues.” She added, “The system is that police are for punishment essentially, and what we need is not preventive punishment, we need prevention, we need social services, and that’s where this money should be going.”
Mayor Gloria Partida responded by saying, “I think this council has had a lot of conversation around this issue, and I think that we are all in agreement that money is better spent on social services.”
She noted that the council indicated that by their action in forming the new department of Social Services.
At the same time, she acknowledged that the police officers “are doing work and sometimes for very long hours because they are understaffed.”
Mayor Partida said, “I think that having a police officer that’s worked 14 hours and has to extend that shift because there’s nobody to cover him, is not a person that you want going into a situation that they have to de-escalate.”
She said, “I believe we will need less police officers once we have our new department up and going – but we’re not at that place yet.”
The Mayor added, I’m supportive of giving our police officers the help that they currently need.”
“We’re not doing this to increase the numbers. We are doing this just to put the back that were there before.”
The council voted 5-0 to approve the item along with the rest of consent calendar.
In a statement from Yolo People Power on Wednesday, following the vote, the group which has been on the forefront of reforming the Davis Police Department since the Picnic Day incident in 2017, said, “Davis wants structural changes in public safety. We have protested and public commented for two years now. Last night, City Council did the opposite of that. They approved funding for the police department to hire two new sworn officers.”
The group said on Wednesday they believe this vote marks a reversal from the council’s position expressed in June.
At the June 15 City Council meeting, the group stated, Mayor Partida stated that hiring 2 new armed officers was “the opposite of what we’ve been talking about for a while now” and assured the public that “these two positions are not in our budget; they haven’t been added to our budget.”
City Manager Mike Webb, they said, echoed her sentiments saying, “The positions that are on that list are not budgeted, they are not in the budget, they are not funded, they are not authorized to be hired. My recommendation quite frankly just to be as clear as we possibly can be is simply to remove those positions from the list of positions moving forward.”
“Such statements and reassurances from Council and the City Manager are disingenuous in light of last night’s meeting,” Yolo People Power said. “Additionally, there has been no evidence presented by anyone to the public to prove the need for police staffing changes. It’s disappointing to see that in a city that has accomplished so much recently, we are continuing to fall back on a structure of armed police and criminalizing human beings as a substitute for true safety.”
Among the changes implemented by the council in the 18 months since the death of Georg Floyd include the support for a CRISIS-NOW model moving mental health response away from sworn police officers, the creation of a Department of Social Services, and the moving of homeless services out of the police department and into Social Services.