By Jane Northrop
Residents who participated in the Zoom City Council study session last Wednesday had first-hand experiences they hope will lead to improvement on the way police officers confront African Americans and mixed race individuals by pulling them over more often than others.
Members of Pacificans for Social Justice spoke to make sure the police department’s use of force policy completely matches that of the 2019 Assembly Bill 392, The California Act to Save Lives. Right now, the policy does not contain the phrase about using force only when faced with imminent force or to protect human life.
Members of that group also suggested the department transition out of Lexipol, a public safety policy and training company used by the Pacifica police department, because they found it biased and profitable to its creator. They suggested a non-profit alternative be found.
Improvement to mental health services came up as the death of Pacifican Errol Chang, who suffered from a mental illness, was brought up by many speakers. Chang was killed by a Daly City SWAT team after hours of confrontation by Paciifica police officers and others in Chang’s Pedro Point home.
In all, 32 people spoke to voice their concerns and ideas.
The Obama Foundation Mayor’s Pledge, which City Council unanimously approved, calls for the immediate review of use of force, second, to engage the community, which should include an adverse range of input, third to report back to the community and fourth to potentially change the use of force policy.
“This is the beginning of community engagement,” said Mayor Deirdre Martin.
City Manager Kevin Woodhouse said, “The systemic racism is in every facet of life. We must all do our part to confront these inequities. My family and I participated in the protest march with many of you. Professionally, we acted quickly to prohibit the carotid hold technique. We will be seeking improvement.”
Police Chief Dan Steidle said, “I continue to express my shock at the murder of George Floyd. This is not what law enforcement is all about. Our officers are committed to acting professionally.”
Steidle led into a presentation about policing and use of force in Pacifica.
“We have a commitment to transparency,” he said.
How can the use of force be prevented? Steidle said it’s about sustaining an ethical culture and being accountable.
“We have a vigorous hiring process. We have up to date legal policies. We have recurring training. We have de-escalation training without the use of force,” he said. “We are always looking to see how we can do better.”
He said he uses Lexipol to supply him with the most up to date policies and practices. The 2019 State Assembly Bill 392 – California Act to Save Lives –defines when use of force is potentially appropriate.
“We have a duty to intercede if an officer uses excessive force. We must report it to a supervisor,” he said.
Officers will warn citizens before using force. There is comprehensive data from body cams and dashboard cameras that will be investigated, if necessary, he said.
Steidle referred to the death of Errol Chang.
“We had a mental health incident a few years ago. We needed help. We have a new program in place today. We have mental health professionals we can call,” he said.
The Pacifica police department conducts bias training, with the latest training happening April 2020.
“Tell us what you think about biases. That’s how we are going to help you,” he said.
“We will do a lot of listening tonight and then report back after conducting research,” said City Manager Woodhouse.
Suzanne Moore said, “Pacifica police department does not include a key phrase from Assembly Bill 392 that use of force should only be used when faced with imminent use of force.”
Nora Salvos agreed.
“I think we could do a lot better with cultural bias training. Hold them monthly,” she said.
Another member of Pacificans for Social Justice remembered the death of Errol Chang.
“Our organization sent a letter to the Pacifica police department yesterday telling them their policy is not in compliance with state law. Pacifica police department should create a crisis intervention practice,” she said.
“Pacifica’s policy is not in compliance with state law that says force can only be used to protect human life,” said Chaya Gordon.
Laverne Villalobos didn’t like the way the Pacifica police officers went into a high school and arrested a student in full view of many others.
“That should not have been done,” she said.
D. Gold said the Lexipol service only benefits the individual who created it and who profits from it. A search should be conducted to find such a service from a non-profit organization.
Xana Cook said her child fears the police because she is biracial.
“I am the mother of a child who is terrified of you. There is a tactic to stop more people of color. Report your findings of who you stop,” she said.
Delia McGrath spoke about her grandson, a 30-year-old man who had an Afro.
“He got six tickets and almost lost his license. He went to the police department to complain and got two more. When he shaved his Afro, he had no more problems,” she said.
Kirsten Andrew Schwin asked if the police department keeps statistics by race.
Gloria Stofan was concerned about the use of mutual aid that led to the death of Errol Chang.
Sophia Royal said, “Unions are important but the police union has become a corrupt union.”
Clara Davis suggested money should be divested from the Pacifica police force and instead go to hospitals who can handle mental illness.
Matt Chang, the brother of Errol Chang, said having this meeting is an important step but it is not enough. He also said he was puzzled when he returned to the police station to give a statement after his brother died that the SWAT team was there having what appeared to be a celebratory pizza party.
“Fifty percent of those killed by police are in a mental health crisis. Defund police and divert services to mental health. A woman in Half Moon Bay was just killed by police. We have a long way to go,” he said.
Jessica Miller, who is in a biracial family, said. “I have experiences with racism in Pacifica. We have been pulled over numerous times.”
Mike Kahn said he’d like to see race noted on all police incidents.
“Racial inequity is a systemic problem. Let’s take this to the next level,” he said.
Kim Kelsey Menezi said six out of eight reforms from the “8 can’t wait campaign” have already been adopted.
“When will they adopt the other two? What will happen to the officers who don’t obey the rules? Reallocate funds to other city services – mental health services and recreation,” she said.
Tygarjas Bigstyck said officers who have come into the Safeway where he works to help with shoplifting crimes and have always acted in a professional manner.
“We should have diversity among the officers,” he said.
Carolyn Jaramillo asked if the resources used to train police can be made public.
“How much do we pay for a Lexipol contract? Can we redirect funds away from that? Is the city held accountable in that policy?”
Charlene Lee asked, “Once they get out of the police academy there is very little oversight. Can we look at that?
Jason Aygun said he was worried Pacifica was using the assistance of other police departments under the mutual aid agreement.
“Are budgets and reprimands made public?” he asked.
Mayor Martin summarized the comments – comply with Assembly Bill 392, and include prohibiting the use of tear gas. There is a desire for the police department to create an unbiased citizen group. A crisis intervention team should be handling mental illness. There should be a reform about how children are treated when confronted by police.
Establish the reforms in the Eight Can’t Wait campaign. Stop contracting with Lexipol. There is a desire for racial profiling on reports. Transparency. Mental health task force, Relocation of finances. Diversifying our police force. Report when training is required and what certification is available. How the department is held accountable when something goes wrong.
Council Member Mary Bier said the Pacifica police department has always helped her and her group of teens who advocate for drug and alcohol prevention.
“This is a very delicate balance between what the city needs and asking about bias. I want to collect race data,” she said. “There is so much more that we have to talk about rather than the use of force. Our officers need to have a lot of training.”
Steidle replied they are not currently collecting such data, but they are working under a new law where they will begin collecting data as of 2022 and will be making their first report.
“This has to do with racial profiling and racial equity. Each stop will have to note certain things – the reason for the stop and more information about ethnicity, age, was consent provided? All these steps will be provided to the FBI for transparency. You can see racially what is occurring,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Sue Beckmeyer said she found the personal experiences that were related tonight very disturbing.
“Could a racial data analysis fit in with our Vision 2025 project? What do other police forces use other than Lexipol? Is there a non-profit version? The issues of racial profiling are big ones,” she said.
Council Member Mike O’Neill said he had a lot of respect for the Pacifica police department.
“I believe the social services are very good in helping the community. The school resource officer was the best thing that ever happened. These programs keep people drug free. We are so short staffed. Maybe partner with others for a mental health bureau? At some point we do need mutual aid, but I am open to a discussion about racial bias,” he said. “Two to three months after an officer was hired, he was honored. That training speaks to the quality of our hiring process.”
Council Member Sue Vaterlaus said we need mutual aid.
“We need more funding. If we could get social workers on grants who can go along on a domestic violence case, that would be great,” she said.
Steidle said he was already working on matching Pacifica’s policies on AB 392 for use of force.
“Work with other agencies in the city? Yes. We do that. If anyone does something against policy they would be held responsible. We call them de-briefs,” he said.
Bier asked what other cities are doing about hiring mental health practitioners and asked if town hall meetings about that topic could be held on a monthly basis?
When asked what is the procedure followed for a mental health call, Steidle said, “We have a psychiatric crisis team. We would love to have a mental health officer on staff. Most of the times we get a call that someone is out of control and we need help. Then we learn there is a lot more going on.”
Steidle said it was hard for him to listen to people’s perceptions that were less than positive.
“We all have ways to improve and the first step is to get uncomfortable,” he said.
City Manager Woodhouse said he would come back with a work plan and the Obama framework and report back to City Council for analysis.
Mayor Martin agreed this topic needs to be a future agenda item.
“We’re looking for compliance with AB392,” she said. “Mutual aid is necessary. For your accountability, you debrief. We are glad you are instilling ethics on the force. Let’s keep open the discussions about mental health and use of force. We will be getting the first wave of racial statistics. Is the Lexicon choice a major part? How would you open up the discussion about police funding? We have signed on to the Obama pledge. We received a lot of emails about that.”
Mayor Martin adjourned the meeting in memory of Errol Chang.
(Jane Northrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)