Daniel Lee: Public Safety Task Force Review – Another Way Forward or More of the Same?


Public SafteyAnother Way Forward or More of the Same?

Tonight the Culver City Council will hear the results of the Public Safety Task Force Review and the City Manager will give recommendations as a result of the staff report. The full agenda is available here. However, missing from the agenda is the report of Saul Sarabia, a consultant also employed in this process.

At the start of this process, I expressed concerns that Mr. Sarabia and his expertise (from a policy perspective) would be sidelined in favor of suggestions from more traditional and institutional sources such as the Center for Public Safety Management. It appears that my fears were not unfounded. As a result, I heavily reference Mr. Sarabia’s report and suggestions in the following paragraphs (in italics).

It was my colleagues on the council who not only suggested a public safety review, but also in an open council meeting requested that the review include an option for a 50% reduction in the budget for the CCPD. I was in agreement on the inclusion of this option. Our direction was not adhered to. It was ignored.

There were subsequent meetings of city staff and meetings between council members and city staff in the police department and various focus groups. If subsequent arrangements were made in these meetings to discard the 50% reduction option among a subset of council members and/or staff it is objectionable, inappropriate, and counter to our agreed-upon instruction. 

Without full documentation of the options that were expressed as desired to be included by the council this issue can not be considered fully or honestly.

Missing Data

“Additionally, intersectional analysis would require considering mental health or disability conditions, and dispatch data that involves these conditions, to examine factors that may produce disproportionate contact, citations, arrests, or deaths. This would allow public policymakers to fashion a more exacting remedy to any disparities. These solutions would not rely simply on one disciplinary training — such as psychology or law — but rather would seek to draw on multiple lenses — ranging from medicine, social work, and community health, to provide a more effective understanding, and solution, to an issue.” 

  • CCPD sworn personnel make 2 times as much in total pay than other Culver City employees and 4 times as much in ‘Other Pay’ than other city employees 
  • Almost 30% of the CCPD budget for salaries is spent on ‘Other Pay/Cash Compensation,’ not base salaries for police officers 
  • CCPD’s total budget is 4 times the budget for the City’s park, recreation, and community services, 22X the budget for housing protections/rental assistance and homelessness projects, and 144X the budget for after-school programs Given the short-lived social history of Court-ordered, electoral-based, and public”

-Saul Saurabia

The short timeline to provide results for this report may have prevented an intersectional data analysis but other omissions seem unnecessary. For example, the lack of interrogation of “other pay” and the limits to the council’s ability to make changes in that regard being included in the report is particularly galling.

An explicit explanation of prior contracts that Culver City has with the Culver City Police Department and the various employment groups within would have given residents and stakeholders a firm grounding from which to make informed suggestions for alterations. 

Budget and Response Options

There has been a lot of talk nationally about developing alternative responses to the armed deployment of police officers and Assembly Member Sydney Kamlager-Dove even authored the CRISES Act in the California Legislature this year in an attempt to fund such initiatives. Co-response is the most expensive of these options but it is the only suggestion given actual consideration.

If there was serious intent to save money rather than to maintain the same material conditions with minimal alterations this fact would have been highlighted and policy positions suggested to take advantage of deploying mobile crisis or other configurations. The Cahoots program in Eugene Oregon estimated that a mobile crisis response (deployed in a city with a population of, 171,245, much larger than that of the Culver City) saved the city an average of $700-$800 per call when deployed instead of the co-response currently in place in Culver City.

The program has been operating for 30 years and 99% of those calls in those three decades have not required police interaction; this alternative response also freed up local police officers to focus on violent crime. The City Manager’s report references rather curious and vague potential insurance issues related to retooling police operations. However…

“This model has most recently taken effect in Denver, Colorado, where the unarmed response teams have taken on more than 350 calls since June 2020. There is no evidence that the cities of Eugene or Denver have lost insurance coverage, been exposed to liability, or faced increased premiums by using unarmed response teams to meet the needs of PMI, unhoused people, or other community needs.” -Saul Sarabia

We should not construct policy based on threats. We should not respond to information provided by insurance companies if it is not in verifiable and documented form. Otherwise, it is just hearsay. The arguments about judgments made against cities and the potential insurance liability also fall flat as a large portion of these judgments are due to police activity.

Rules of Engagement Interrogation and a Care First Model

The focus nationally has been police violence but the problem goes deeper than that. I have mentioned to several staff members that the Public Safety Review should extend beyond use of force and focus on providing uniform respect in all encounters and decreasing the potential for escalation. 

Interactions with Culver City police officers, beyond traffic stops, have been referenced as problematic by residents and stakeholders. When residents of the community came to request that a prior council consider making Culver City a sanctuary city this was followed up by an explicit codification of how the overarching policy would work on a day to day basis and was subsequently documented.

Police interaction policies that forbid or discourage the active condescension and handcuffing of people of color (primarily Black) in Culver City for the mere purpose of questioning should be identified and altered. Some of this data will be collected by complying with the Racial and Identity Profiling Act but without an explicit plan to put that data into action, it may be more window dressing that will wait for a lethal incident or an outcry to be acted upon.

Mechanisms for Accountability

In a prior meeting in addition to the Chief’s Advisory Panel, this council agreed to create a mechanism for community police oversight and accountability. No such mechanism is suggested in the city manager’s recommendations. Compliance with RIPA is a surface level accommodation that checks a box but which does not explicitly suggest a process to use the data provided for increased accountability. 

Our goal shouldn’t be to improve the image of the Culver City Police Department with certain demographics. Our goal should be to decrease the disproportionate targeting and arrest of people of color from within and without the Culver City community and to prevent clear instances of racial injustice and police brutality from reappearing in our community as well as preventing officer-involved shootings.

Our goal should not be to merely keep police officers in Culver City employed but to do what is best for all of the residents and stakeholders in our city.

City Manager’s Suggestions and CCPD’s Proposed Changes

The new programs implemented and suggested by our police department are inadequate. Complying with the Racial and Identity Profiling Act RIPA and improving data collection are the absolute bare minimum and are not changes to be lauded. Similarly, while foot patrols may decrease people’s level of intimidation when encountering officers nothing will change if the way that those officers interact does not.

As mentioned before, the co-response model is the most expensive mental health model to consider. It makes no sense to stick with and consider only that. Lastly, the efforts to expand youth diversion programs are worthy but many of the complaints that I have received from residents and constituents are from adults, many of them residents, most of whom have not committed a crime. Adult diversion programs will not change the lived experience of law-abiding people of color who are adults who feel targeted. Other deficiencies in the report include.

  • No discussion of reassigning officers to jail positions as another potential budget savings.
  • Most of the proposed changes rely on outside funding rather than actual reductions as requested.
  • The reductions referenced were almost entirely a result of a budget altered by the covid19 pandemic before the task force was formed.
  • No differentiation among the suggestions/no tiers of consideration. In prior council meetings colleagues requested and we all agreed to look at a 50% reduction in the CCPD budget as an option. There is no mention of that here. 
  • Suggested CCFD Mental Health Team does not take into account potential cost savings from a Mobile Crisis Intervention Team and their long track record of safety and being consistently insured. Also, these teams do but appear to be designed to handle calls normally taken by the CCPD.
  • Mechanisms for accountability and oversight are absent.
  • No suggestions for a critical examination of the “broken windows” policy.

“The most significant shift at the hands of the City at this critical cross-roads would be to adopt the County ATI [Alternatives to Incarceration] recommendation to stop arresting people for the two most common misdemeanor charges: driving without a suspended license and petty theft, which are drivers of racial disparities by CCPD. African Americans constitute 44% of these arrests and roughly 35% of these arrests are of Latinx people, while these 2 infractions constitute fully 1 out of 3 arrests made by the CCPD. Not only would this change reduce racial disparities, it could meet the larger interest of ensuring that public taxpayer resources are spent most effectively.”

It is my hope that whatever the new council configuration is that it:

  1. Works towards institutionalizing methods for community accountability and oversight of the Culver City Police Department.
  2. Instructs staff to create proposals that consider actual cuts rather than the mere long term adoption of covid19 related budget alterations.

One council member cannot and should not determine the future actions of the council but suggestions of other council members have been included as options on similar reports without the need for a vote. However, the omission of the agreed-upon option that looks at a 50% reduction in budget for the Culver City Police Department presupposes council action. Further, it limits the scope of discussion and policy positions to be considered. This is unacceptable.

In order to have an honest discussion, we should have an honest process and in order to have an honest process, staff must adhere to the confines of the discussion that were agreed upon by this council in a public meeting. The headlines and protests may have waned but the memories of our constituents (and the video recordings of our meetings) persist. The ultimate direction of any changes for the Culver City Police Department will rest in the hands of a council with a different configuration than the current one. But, when those items come before us in systemic or piecemeal form they must reflect the prior direction given by council to staff or they are hardly worth discussion and our jobs are those of figureheads rather than policymakers.

Council Agenda
Researchers find little evidence for ‘broken windows theory,’ say neighborhood disorder doesn’t cause crime
The Problem with “Broken Windows” Policing