By Lauren Smith
DAVIS, CA – As a result of the recommendations to Davis city council to engage the community voice in discussions over reimagining public safety, the UC Davis Center for Healthcare Policy and Research (CHPR) presented the results of a 2020 research study on public opinion about public safety in Davis, Sacramento and Boyle Heights, during Monday night’s Social Services Commission meeting.
The aim of the research study as stated by Dr. Karen Shore, a research fellow at CHPR, was to “conduct public deliberation sessions on police reforms in three communities, Boyle Heights, Davis, [and] Sacramento.”
The main method of outreach was via Next Door posting and outreach by the city.
The core question for study participants was, “Taking into account the unique circumstances in your local community, and speaking on behalf of your community (versus as an individual), what police reforms are most acceptable in your local community in the next 1-3 years?”
The participants could select any of the following four options:
- Increase transparency and accountability within policing
- Enhance training of police to better match their current responsibilities
- Reduce policing by shifting responsibility for nonviolent responses
- Replace/re-imagine policing with other systems of community safety/justice
Each participant was provided with background information, including that “the city devotes over 30% of its unrestricted tax revenue to the police department” and that a lower percentage is “allocated to parks and community services, fire, and public works.”
In addition, Davis participants were told that a “2% decrease in police funding” specific to the Davis budget, “could allow for the hiring of an estimated 7 behavioral health case managers, or 9 paramedics, or 11 mental health peer support workers.”
After each participant selected their choice from the above options, they engaged in a group deliberation, and then were asked to vote again, with added freedom in creating additional options that were not part of the original four choices.
There were 126 participants who participated in the study overall, 44 of them were from Davis. Of those 44 participants, 81% were white, 5% were black, and 2% were Asian/Pacific Islander, with no Hispanic or Latinx participants. In addition, 34% of the Davis participants were aged 65 or older, 27% were aged 56-64, 25% were aged 46-55, 7% were aged 36-45, 5% were aged 26-35, and 2% were aged 18-25. The gender breakdown was 52% women and 48% men.
Dr. Shani Buggs, Assistant Professor with the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis, shared the study results.
7% of the Davis participants selected option 1, increasing transparency and accountability in policing. The participants expressed that “greater transparency will cause people to think more about what they say and do.”
25% percent of Davis participants selected option 2, enhanced training of police. The participants reasoned that “enhanced training would build trust and promote more positive relationships with the community.”
34% percent of Davis participants selected option 3, reducing policing by shifting responsibility for nonviolent responses. According to Dr. Buggs, “mental health needs were mentioned by many of the participants, as well as a need for deescalation of the situation.”
In addition, the participants discussed challenges “such as shortages in professional mental health counselors or social workers, or the fact that there is limited information shared with dispatch when 911 calls come in so it could be hard to match the right professionals to the needs of the person being responded to.”
34% percent of Davis participants selected option 4, replace/re-imagine public safety. Dr. Buggs stated that participants who chose this option discussed the “need to address root causes of violence and crime such as structural racism, mass incarceration, disproportionate resources, and the historical effects of redlining.”
Dr. Buggs stated that one participant in particular stated, “if everyone’s needs were met, would we need the police?”
The participants who selected option 4 also stated that the “institutions of policing in America are too resistant to substantial reforms and too lenient about harms caused by the police to sufficiently meet community safety needs in an equitable and fair manner.”
In addition, they discussed a “constant fear of police among community members, particularly those from marginalized communities.”
Dr. Buggs pointed out that “a majority of respondents voted for significant changes to current policing.”
Overall, the timeframe of 1-3 years was a “key factor” in the participants’ decisions. Dr. Buggs stated that “there was a lot of conversation about how ready the communities are for substantial reforms of public safety and some participants talked about the community not being ready for substantial change and some communities said there was support for significant reforms and it was important to begin now if structural and substantive changes are desired by community members.”
Based on these results, the researchers recommend that Davis “should work strongly to engage more community members, including those not typically involved in civic engagement regarding police reforms” and those “communities/people who are disproportionately impacted by policing.”
The study found that overall, “substantial reforms are desired” and that “participants recognized that 1-3 years was not enough time for substantial reform to be completed, so an expanded time frame is important to be considered and planned for.”
Patricia Powers, a principal consultant with the CHPR, stated that “people took very seriously that they weren’t just representing their own views and they frequently said ‘there aren’t a lot of people of color in this session, but we need to keep that in mind and how they may view the question’ that was asked in the group.”
Public commenter Connor Gorman highlighted that the age demographics of the Davis participants “are quite skewed on the upper end compared to the population in Davis,” yet despite that, “a vast majority of the participants still chose options 3 or 4.”
Gorman also highlighted that the city council recently voted to reinstate “several armed sworn police officer positions into the City of Davis budget despite previously saying they would not constitute those positions and despite opposition from various community members.”
“This shows the desire of people in the community to redirect funding from the police department [to other] services and programs that we know will really reduce harmful behavior and crime,” he continued.
Gorman also highlighted what a 2% decrease in the police budget could do stating, “the 2% number was mentioned, like what could you do with [that] when you reduce the police budget even by 2% so that is something that I hope the city continues to pursue and I hope this commission continues to pursue it as well.”
Commissioner Alana O’Brien echoed Connor’s concern on the demographics of the Davis participants in “both age and race,” asking what outreach efforts were done in regards to students.
Dr. Shore stated that there was “some outreach to students” but the time of the sessions, 4pm-6pm or 5pm-7pm, may have “limited who could participate,” adding that “20 people would sign up, and 12 or 13” people would attend the session.
Commissioner Susan Perez stated that “we try our hardest to elicit a range of voices and experiences, but at the end of the day it’s kind of like who’s willing to show up and speak to this and it tends to skew towards individuals who are more civically involved and with civic engagement also comes the privilege of time and resources so you absolutely see that reflected in the demographics.”
Commission Chair Judith Ennis questioned what outreach methods were done to connect with “communities that are disproportionately impacted by policing.”
“It was primarily community based organizations (CBO),” Powers responded. “We were looking at zip codes, we were looking at race, ethnicity in terms of faith based organizations, we pretty much did it that way, the combination of CBO’s that would be vehicles to reach individuals that may be disproportionately affected.”
Ennis concluded that if “this were to continue” she hopes to see “a greater spread in the diversity of the participants.”