More Care, Fewer Cops: Next Steps to Reimagine Public Safety in Culver City

CCAN calls on the City Council to set clear policy direction for genuinely reimagining public safety in Culver City by reducing reliance on policing and advancing racial equity. At its April 26 meeting (item A-2), the Council should take the following steps to endorse and begin implementing the recommendations of Solidarity Consulting’s January 18, 2021 report “Recommendations to Advance Racial Equity and Social Justice.” More general background info on #DefundCCPD is here. The Council should vote on a formal resolution reflecting these points:

1) Immediately freeze hiring of new CCPD officers, including from the pool of applicants CCPD solicited in January 2021 after Solidarity Consulting’s report and without Council authorization or public debate.

2) Adopt as policy goals implementation of Solidarity Consulting’s three recommended pathways to advance racial equity and public safety:

a) Remove CCPD response and substitute non-police mobile crisis intervention services for calls about people experiencing crises of mental health, houselessness, drug use, or related health & welfare issues.
b) Decriminalize and divert the low-level poverty-related misdemeanors that drive arrests and racial inequity.
c) Reallocate routine traffic enforcement and accident response away from armed police to alternative methods.

3) Commit to using CCPD workload reductions from these pathways to enable corresponding reductions in CCPD budget and staffing through attrition, and then reallocating the savings toward promoting public safety and well-being outside the CCPD.

4) Direct City staff to analyze the potential pace and scale of CCPD staffing and budget reductions through attrition and appropriate incentives, without layoffs.

5) Create a robust, independent Public Safety Commission for ongoing public planning and oversight.

6) Direct City staff to develop plans and timelines for advancing these policies.

7) Direct City staff to incorporate these policy goals into their annual budgets and work plans for 2021-22 and beyond.

Mayor Fisch, Vice Mayor Lee, and Councilmember McMorrin made excellent statements at the January 25, 2021 Council meeting supporting the bulk of Solidarity Consulting’s and CCAN’s recommendations for reimagining public safety. Unfortunately, the formal action by the Council, as recommended by the Mayor, was much narrower. It consisted merely of forming an Ad Hoc Public Safety Subcommittee of Fisch and McMorrin for the limited purpose of identifying a project manager to guide development of non-police mobile crisis response capacity. Many other issues were simply left unresolved, despite having received substantial Council support—and being long-delayed from the initial public safety review timeline for making decisions last October.

The Council should finish its work from this initial round of public safety review, not hide from it. It should make clear decisions, accompanied by votes, on the broad policy direction going forward. This is particularly important as the City is already developing work plans and budgets for 2021-22. Moreover, this direction also will support the General Plan Update process as it considers policing and public safety issues.

The Council should immediately take the seven actions specified above. These build on the positions stated at the January 25 meeting and highlighted by Councilmember McMorrin in her summary during that discussion. We call for a formal vote on these points. If verbal support turns into opposition when the rubber meets the road, let it be clearly recorded. As the Vice Mayor pointed out, these modest steps leave much more to be done. They are the bare minimum to maintain momentum and convey a credible commitment to serious change. This process began with large street demonstrations and multiple meetings last June and July, another in October, and countless meetings of smaller bodies, a flurry of reports, and ample public debate. Despite this, precious little action has been taken, not because of an explicit policy decision to accept the status quo, but through delay, deflection, and avoidance. This pattern continues to deepen public cynicism, not build trust. 

The anniversary of George Floyd’s murder is May 25. What will have changed by then? As Councilmember McMorrin wisely observed, the Council should not place on the community, nor on its own Black members, the burden of rehearsing again and again the trauma of life under well-documented systems of inequity, each time some small step forward is considered. Instead, with leadership from Mayor Fisch, the Council as a whole must take responsibility for charting a path and keeping moving, even if the road is long.

We recognize that non-police mobile crisis response appears to be moving forward. We appreciate the Vice Mayor’s long standing advocacy on this point, and also the Council’s choice on January 25 not to invest further in the police co-response MET model advocated by the PD and Members Vera and Eriksson. Point 2a above is consistent with the January 25 action, but it also clarifies that investing in non-police response capacity should lead to correspondingly reduced reliance on police response, not simply adding to total response. Even so, two months later there has been no public action to actually hire a project manager for mobile crisis response since January 25.

Moreover, reductions in police response in one area should be taken as opportunities to reduce total CCPD budget and staffing. Point 3 makes clear that the goal should be, as Vice Mayor Lee stated clearly, to reduce the total amount of police-civilian interactions, each one of which risks insult, injury, and even death. These risks fall most heavily on BIPOC residents and neighbors, especially youth and younger adults, and on people in our community who are experiencing mental illness, poverty, houselessness, or other distress–including the two who have died at the hands or after restraint by CCPD in the past year.. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the strategy of the CCPD, and those invested in maintaining its power, appears to be to simply to reshuffle the deck, shifting resources from one form of policing to another. That, for instance, was the thrust of Chief Cid’s recent “Refocused Policing” announcement, which combined very limited reductions in traffic enforcement with intensification of foot and bicycle patrols.

We understand the value of prioritizing certain steps, but this is a matter of sequencing work as acknowledged in point 6. It poses no barrier to the Council committing the City to broader policy goals and directing City staff to advance them where possible.  We reject the pattern of locking in the status quo through delay, failure to articulate clear policy, and the excuse of not having the necessary information. This is especially egregious after failing to take opportunities to gather precisely that information. That, unfortunately, is the pattern we have seen since the failure to make 2020-21 budget changes, supposedly due to lack of time to develop concrete proposals. Yet by October, the City Manager’s Public Safety Review still had failed to generate concrete options for significant budget and staffing reallocation despite the clear directive to do so. Next, in November, the Council locked in current police management compensation for two years, despite unresolved controversy over excessive “other pay” above base salary. Most recently, in January, immediately after the Solidarity Consulting report was issued but before the Council met to act on it, the PD initiated an effort to hire more entry-level and lateral officers and lock in current force size. Instead, the focus ought to be on managing shrinkage through attrition. Thus far, however, the City has refused even to study what that could look like, despite it clearly being called for by last summer’s mandate to explore CCPD budget reductions up to 50%. Somehow, the City Manager oversaw spending over $100,000 on CPSM police management consultants who disclaimed any mandate to consider racial equity or changes to the scope of the PD’s missis, yet focused on countless other topics disconnected from reimagining public safety to promote equity and reduce harm.

In the interim period before a serious and detailed plan is developed, the City should immediately cease new hiring of police officers. Any exceptions should require case-by-case pre-approval by public vote of the City Council. Staffing reductions do not need to wait until new, non-police response capacities are developed. The CPSM report makes clear that the CCPD is overstaffed even for carrying out its current activities. CCPD sends out more than twice as many officers per call as CPSM’s industry benchmark. Even with this excessive response, CCPD officers spend much less of their time responding to calls than CPSM’s benchmark “Saturation Index,” operating at a level that CPSM itself notes would “indicate patrol resources may be underutilized, and may signal an opportunity for a reduction in patrol resources or reallocation of police personnel.”

Discussing staffing reductions, even through attrition, always triggers fear-mongering about crime by the police union and its allies. Nonetheless, the truth remains that precious little of CCPD’s work involves headline-grabbing events. Of course, those are still the ones that CCPD’s propaganda machine constantly highlights to the public. But CPSM data again shows that only 2% of CCPD dispatches involve violent crimes and only another 6% involve drug or property crimes. Meanwhile, over 40% involve traffic-related issues and another 16% involve vague non-criminal matters like “disturbance.”

At this point, the Council has heard from the public—over and over again—and from a wide range of stakeholders and experts. It’s time for the Council to take responsibility and act. It will be a long road, but we cannot keep starting over every meeting, with only pretty words to show for it. Every day of delay embraces an intolerable status quo, entrenches white supremacy, and disregards the security, the dignity, and the very lives of too many in our community.

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