By Mayor Tom Butt,
I don’t understand the recent antipathy being shown to the Richmond Police Department by four of my six City Council colleagues. We ask the community to trust and cooperate with the men and women who risk their lives daily to make Richmond safe, then they send a message that the Police aren’t to be trusted after all, and that civilian oversight must be ramped up to be the most stringent in the entire United States.
With one exception, the entire City Council approved a number of changes to the Police Commission ordinance, including extending the time that an individual can submit a claim against a police officer from 45 days to 120 days, changing the name of the Police Commission to the Citizens Police Review Committee, giving the Police Commission the final say in accepting a late complaint, and ensuring that each complaint was forwarded to the chief of police and each member of the police commission. Several housekeeping changes to make the ordinance consistent with California statutes were also included.
Then, the City Council moved from consensus to contention. The two additional changes proposed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance bloc were not based on improving the Police Commission review process but instead were based on the premise that the Richmond Police Department cannot be trusted. The first item, a move to re-open the Perez matter was also based on the premise that neither can the district attorney nor an independent investigator retained by the City be trusted. All this was on the same day that it was publicly announced that the Perez family had given up their right to a civil rights jury trial in federal court in exchange for a monetary settlement. That jury trial could have brought out all of the facts and testimony that some people believe should be made public, but now it will never happen.
The second item, a plan that would require mandatory Police Commission investigations into all deaths and even serious injuries, whether a complaint is filed or not, was clearly based on the premise that, in the future, the Police Department has erred until proven otherwise.
The two motions were so radical that they drew the following comment from former Police Chief Chris Magnus, writing from Tucson:
I can say with absolute confidence that NO other cities are following this model. It seems that no finding will suit the agenda some folks have unless it validates their preconceived notions about how that incident occurred. This has nothing to do with fairness or independence, but rather is entirely political. There are so many ways meaningful civilian oversight could be better achieved, but this is a huge step backwards for a city that could do so much better.
All three of the RPA sponsors of the proposal plus Councilmember Myrick stated that their support, in one way or another, was based on a lack of trust in the Police Department by the community and that the Police Department cannot ever be trusted to police itself, a conclusion that is not supported by the facts.
Since 2003, not a single complaint made to the Richmond Police Commission has been sustained. The number of complaints filed with the Police Commission has dropped off in the last two years to one a year, hardly an indication of widespread concern.
In the Richmond Community Survey for years 2007 through 2015, residents’ rating of police rose from 38% excellent/good to 59% excellent/good, an increase of 55%. People’s confidence in the Richmond police is clearly rising dramatically, not declining. Similarly, in t(see below), the top priority was “reducing crime.” Investigating the police was not even mentioned.
And, we still have the Police Commission, with updated processes and procedures, as avenue for citizen complaints.
Richmond is committed to remaining on the cutting edge of technology, training and strategies to prevent use of force in the field. In 2015, the Richmond Police Department became one of the first agencies in California to issue body cameras to patrol officers. Interim Police Chief Allwyn Brown was of 10 law enforcement leaders in the nation who traveled to Scotland with the Police Executive Research Forum where he coordinated on strategies to prevent use of force. Just last month the City Council accepted a $150,000 grant from the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Assistance, to expand the use of body cameras.
In September 2015, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Richmond to praise the Richmond Police Department as a national example:
During her public comments, Lynch highlighted the Richmond Police Department’s early adoption of body cameras, which went into effect this winter; training on implicit bias; and programs such as Operation Ceasefire, which addresses gun violence by pulling in police, probation officers and community groups. “It’s clear to me that Richmond is working toward a holistic and comprehensive approach to criminal justice that is more than just an arrest but is trying to identify many of the causes that lead people to connect with the criminal justice system in the first place,” Lynch said. (http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_28877262/richmond-u-s-attorney-general-loretta-lynch-visiting).
The City of Richmond and the Richmond Police Department continue to work diligently on effective de-escalation techniques and violence prevention strategies which have proven successful in reducing the use of deadly force.
Richmond is not Mayberry, and policing Richmond is a challenging task. Richmond on the list of the top 10 most dangerous cities in the Bay Area with more than 25,000 residents. The police need our confidence, not our criticism.
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