Reimage, Review, Revise Police Policy

The killing of George Floyd and other Black people by police has caused cities across this country, including Alameda, to ask what public safety should look like in 2020 and beyond. Alameda is also examining why a Black man who was dancing in the street was arrested, and how to assure this kind of arrest never happens again.

Reimagining public safety includes reviewing and revising existing policies on use of force and training, and creating structural reforms, including community oversight bodies that provide greater public access and transparency and ensure the equitable protection of all people.

At a special June 17 City Council meeting we began discussing these urgent topics. The Council will consider authorizing me to join Mayors around the country in signing on to former President Barack Obama’s proposed common-sense limits on police use of force. I am eager to do so. The requested actions are:

1. Review your police use of force policies.
2. Engage your communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in your review.
3. Report the findings of your review to your community and seek feedback.
4. Reform your community’s police use of force policies.

This is just the beginning. Alameda can adopt policies that have proved successful in other cities. For example, have police stop making arrests, and instead issue citations for low-level offenses to help reduce violent interactions with police. George Floyd is a prime example. 

Floyd was fatally arrested for suspicion of making a purchase using a counterfeit $20 bill. A citation is similar to a traffic ticket, a person either pays a fine or must show up in court at a later date. 

I believe we also need to transform the way that police deal with individuals suffering from mental illness. Statistics show that approximately one in four people fatally shot by police are struggling with some mental health issue. 

Some cities have created a new category of first responder called a mental health or a behavioral health first responder. This model is based on a 30-year old program in Eugene, Oregon that uses a civilian team with certified medic and trained crisis workers who don’t carry guns, pepper spray or tasers, but are specially trained to de-escalate a situation and get people into community-based treatment programs, rather than jail.
Police departments support these programs because they are successful and cost-effective. Civilian interventions also keep people out of emergency rooms and jails.

I have received requests to “defund the police.” I would like the Council to explore directing funding to programs and services that deal most effectively with the daily crises police encounter, including mental health issues, substance abuse and homelessness. Perhaps a mobile mental health unit like the City of Berkeley uses.

Some changes may be implemented quickly, while others will take longer, but I believe the City Council has both the commitment and the will to assure this change. I am confident that,Wear your masks! Alameda County Public Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan hopes the COVID-19 pandemic will help us recognize and work to combat racism that has led to disparate impacts of the coronavirus on communities of color. But she asks you to “protest carefully,” always wearing a mask and maintaining 6 feet of distance from others. If you protested without wearing a mask and feel symptomatic, please get tested. Tests are free and test site locations can be found at www.acphd.org/2019-ncov/testing.

In Alameda County we still have not “flattened the curve” which public health officials define as no more than a 3 percdent  increase in daily cases. As a result, we must move more slowly than other counties to reopen our businesses. Please do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask or face covering whenever you leave your house. And remind everyone you know to do the same.

Be smart. Be safe. Wear your mask. Be Alameda Strong! 

 

Marilyn Ezzy Aschcraft is the mayor of Alameda