Council Directs Staff to Proceed with Changes in Police Response Protocol

File photo Five Alameda policemen restrain Mali Watkins on May 23, 2020, after a 911caller reported an African American man was dancing in the street.

Council Directs Staff to Proceed with Changes in Police Response Protocol

Mario Gonzalez’s death in police custody spurs action

After listening to 38 speakers at a special meeting last Saturday and reading 50 pages of correspondence in the matter, the City Council approved all seven action items on the meeting agenda.

Councilmembers directed City Manager and his staff to bring back a proposal for a pilot program for mental-health responses by the end of June.

The Council also instructed staff to shift responses of as many Alameda Police Department (APD) calls for service to other existing resources. Council also expects staff to return with a pilot program proposal and budget to implement a mental-health pilot program and pay for shifts in calls for service.

At the meeting Council discussed and approved directing city staff to return to the City Council with a proposed revision to APD use-of-force policies.

Council also expects staff to establish protocols for requesting non-police response, backup and/or interventions; and orders immediate training for all APD officers.

The Council directed Levitt to initiate a civilian review of all use-of-force body cameras and to advise Council regarding short-term civilian oversight of APD.

The Council also expects Levitt and his staff to return with a process that would lead to consideration of a
City Charter amendment that would create a permanent civilian oversight board.

The motion also directs staff to return as part of the budget discussion with a position of public safety auditor that would be housed in either the City Attorney’s office or the City Clerk’s office. This position would be the first step in the process of civilian oversight.

City Council is aiming to place a measure on the 2022 ballot for voters to consider adding a civilian-oversight board to the City Charter.

The Council will also direct staff to prepare a compendium of all mental health resources currently available, and direct protocols for their use.

The April 19 death of Mario Gonzalez in police custody marks the second time in less than a year that the conduct of Alameda police has attracted national attention.

On May 23, 2020, a video camera on a nearby building documented the rough treatment police gave Mali Watkins for dancing on Central Avenue.

Both the Watkins and Gonzalez incidents involved people of color; both times callers told police that they were afraid. “I’m scared,” the Watkins caller told the dispatcher. The DA dropped charges against Watkins. The April 19 caller said Gonzalez was scaring his wife. Gonzalez died while in police custody.

In a June 5, 2020, interview included in a KGO TV news report of the Watkins incident, Levitt told the reporter, “I want this department (APD) to move forward in a way that a year from now it becomes a model for the U.S.” Gonzalez’s death in APD custody shows that APD will not be meeting Levitt’s goal.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at