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City Council Takes Major Steps to Reform Policing

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

September 10, 2020 -- In an unprecedented move that gives citizens more control over policing, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to create a Police Commission, revise the department's use of force policies and explore ways to change the role of law enforcement.

The Council initiatives would double the number of Neighborhood Resource Officers from four to eight, reduce the number of "minor" dispatch calls serviced by officers and explore the use of "third-party intervention teams."

The measures shift some key decision-making powers from police to the community and reflect actions taken by other cities amid nationwide protests over several high-profile deaths of Black residents at the hands of law enforcement.

In addition to the policing reforms, the Council also voted to create and fund a nonprofit to support Black Santa Monicans and approved "Equity and Inclusion Officers" for every City department.

“In a series of unanimous votes, the Council demonstrated steadfast commitment to real change for racial equity,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said in a statement after Tuesday's vote.

“Our actions are an acknowledgment of and apology to all those who’ve been hurt by systemic injustices," McKeown said. "We can’t change the past, but we acted tonight to assure a better future.”

The proposals to the Council were developed by a 15-member Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee (PSRAC) and stemmed from work conducted by the Black Agenda for Santa Monica Steering Committee.

The Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA) said the Advisory Committee's work "initiated an important public dialogue" but cautioned against budget cuts and measures that would make the City less safe.

"Investments in training that keep important issues like deescalation and implicit bias front and center in the development of our officers are more than worthwhile, budget cuts that would limit our ability to carry out that important work are damaging," the POA said in a statement.

The POA also raised questions about the Council's direction to "explore third-party partnerships to implement crisis intervention teams similar to those employed in the Eugene, Oregon CAHOOTS program."

"Fortifying our ranks with mental health professionals who are uniquely equipped to handle specific service calls makes a lot of sense," the union wrote, "limiting the public’s ability to access those and other services does not."

The union said it it prepared to work with the community on "reasonable change" and is devoted to "this essential work."

"Our community is at a critical juncture," the POA said, "decisions we make now will impact us for years to come, it is important now more than ever that concerned community leaders meet these challenges together."

The Council's key directions to staff included returning with a draft ordinance to "create and establish an eleven-member Police Commission to be appointed by the City Council with priority given to members of the PSRAC for appointment consideration."

It also authorized the formation of a Racial Equity Committee within the City government and "the appointment of an existing staff member in each City department to serve as an Equity and Inclusion Officer and member of this Committee."

In addition, the Council voted to provide $100,000 in seed funding and $25,000 in Council discretionary funding to help form a nonprofit organization "to promote the wellbeing of Black people who live, work, and visit the Santa Monica community and to build a more equitable and just Santa Monica."

Barry Snell, a member of the Black Agenda for Santa Monica Steering Committee, welcomed the Council's actions.

“We hope this is the beginning of changes in our community that will be the basis for systemic change in our society,” said Snell, who is a member of the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees.

“The nonprofit is in progress and we hope to have the entire community represented," Snell said. "That’s how we’ll create the change we need.”

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