City to begin phasing out police from traffic managment, mental health calls

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After about four hours of comment and discussion that lasted past 2 a.m., city council voted 3-2 to implement a variety of moderate changes to the responsibilities and oversight of the Culver City Police Department.

Most prominently among those include the phasing out of police from traffic enforcement and mental health and wellness calls. These calls will be met by a separate response team, similar to the mobility crisis teams deployed by Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) in Eugene, Oregon.

Additionally, city staff was directed to work with a city council subcommittee to put together a community oversight community to overlook the police department.

These decisions did not come without resistance, as several petitions started by Joan Davidson and Jamie Wallace received over 2000 signatures collectively prior to the meeting.

Those displeased also made their voices heard at Monday’s meeting, as 118 speakers were registered to speak. One recalled a stalker case that she submitted to the CCPD, only to find it had not been filed over a year later. She asked, “Why should I support the CCPD?”

Another spoke of the rising crime numbers, and her lack of comfort having the 10 preschoolers she takes care of as a daycare manager in her outdoor play space, arguing we need more police to keep the city safe.

There were also accusations that outside agitators were being brought into the meetings to attack Culver City Police, but those were rebuffed by other speakers who were residents and high school students in the city speaking in favor of the motion.

Another notable speaker was Robert Zirgulis, who is the head of the Culver City Kennedy Democrats. He unleashed a tirade mostly targeted at Vice Mayor Daniel Lee. Zirgulis called Lee a “vile and despicable man,” and demanded he apologize for earlier comments Zirgulis claimed were Lee calling Culver City Police Officers racists.

Mayor Alex Fisch opened the discussion among councilmembers by asking for a motion to take immediate layoffs of police officers off the table, in an attempt to “take some of the temperature out of the discussion.”

Daniel Lee countered by saying that he didn’t think that such a motion was necessary, as immediate layoffs were not suggested in the report and not on the radar of councilmembers’ current position on the matter. He argues that by doing this, the council would be wasting its time with a vote at best and giving a “voice to falseness” at worst. Fisch noted that there was a procedural issue that is ironed out through the vote but did not elaborate on the issue.

After a second by councilmember Goran Eriksson, councilmember Albert Vera gave a statement regarding conflict of interest in agenda items related to the CCPD. Vera’s daughter is currently employed by the CCPD, and he says that while he is committed to making his decisions as a councilmember and not a citizen, he will be recusing himself from discussions regarding CCPD layoffs on advice from the city.

After he made his statement, Vera turned off his camera to exclude himself from the vote, which passed 3-0, with Vera recused and Lee abstaining.

In the general discussion on the matter, Vera first asked about a Jan. 13 incident that several commentors brought up. The incident started at about 2:30 that morning when several callers reported to dispatch that a man bleeding and only in his underwear screaming and trying to enter the business about a block away from 6300 Slauson Ave.

Officers arriving at the scene saw the man with “a significant amount of blood on his body,” and speaking incoherently, the department said.

“Officers believed the subject was under the influence of a controlled substance and in need of medical attention,” the police department said in the statement.

CCPD handcuffed him while waiting for the medical help to arrive, and said that he “began to resist the officers as the fire department arrived on the scene.”

“The officers continued to restrain the subject, and at some point, he became unresponsive,” the department said. “Culver City Fire Department personnel immediately rendered medical aid and transported the subject to a local hospital.”

He died three days after the incident, police said. His name has not been released to the public.

Police chief Manny Cid explained that because it was an ongoing investigation being handled outside of the department, there was not much for him to add about the case at that time. He also added that the coroner’s report was taking a significant amount of time and says that the body cam footage will be released as soon as they are legally permitted to.

Vera also had Cid explain the salary structure, which has been a topic of discussion since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matters movement and the release of a UCLA report on the topic in September. The CCPOA called the report’s findings “inaccurate,” and several members of the community believe that UCLA professors Noah Zatz and Kelly Lytle Hernandez are leveraging their positions to support anti-policing agendas.

In particular, the section of salary commonly referred to as ‘other pay’ has been subject to scrutiny. According to the UCLA report, “other pay” was being used by CCPD to inflate salaries by as much as 126%. Cid described other pay as “incentives and benefits negotiated with the city on a contractual basis.”

Vera’s stance hinged on the saying “it is better to have something and not need it than to need something and not have it.” He argued that keeping law enforcement out would be limiting in some situations, and law enforcement would need to be involved in things such as a 5150. Vera advocated for the co-respondent model.

He also claimed that the report that Solidarity Consulting put together was not particularly specific for the city, echoing some commentors thoughts that you could replace Culver City’s name in the report with most other cities, and it would still apply. 

Moving forward, Vera said that one of the things that he would like to focus on is establishing an environment where “the good police officers are not afraid of the bad ones.” He spoke to his time working in the police officer reserve in the 80’s, and said that the culture is vastly different from what it was back then, but there is still more work to be done to keep officers accountable and protect those who report other officers.

Lee started his comments with a famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

This quote is more pertinent than ever, Lee argues, because things that have been brought to the public conscious with the Black Lives Matters movement have been being asked for by African Americans for decades longer.

He also reiterates the fact that significant cuts to the police budget were not what was being discussed, and referred to the earlier layoff vote as a “political stunt.” 

Lee then mentioned the city’s history as a ‘sundown town,’ where signs were posted that told minorities that they were unwelcome in public after dark, and noted that this played a part in the disenfranchisement and deterioration of wealth that minorities, particularly Asians and Latino Americans.

Through this, Lee argues that policing and housing are inextricably connected.

“The only way a ‘sundown town’ really works is through enforcement, and it was enforced by police officers.” Lee said.

He also addressed comments he made in a previous meeting on the topic, in which he argued that while the CCPD was a great police force, the systems of policing in the United States were inherently racist and biased. He reiterated that he was not talking in particular about CCPD or its individual officers as it has been construed by some, but says he stands by the overall message.

Lee continued to emphasize that the recommendations given by Solidarity Consulting are very moderate, and the more progressive and radical suggestion of a potential 50% reallocation was never brought forward by staff, despite Lee’s understanding that they were directed to. He also pointed out that he has had meetings with staff and the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program last year, which would seem pointless if the model isn’t actually adopted.

Lee capped off by saying that while he has been receptive to speaking with officers, he refuses to meet with the Culver City Police Officers’ Association (CCPOA) because of their prior attacks on individual residents. The group made a video in August of last year criticizing Kelly Kent, who is on the Board of Education at Culver City Unified School District.

Finally, he finished by saying that he agrees with not only the recommendations from Solidarity Consulting, but also the 50% reallocation suggested by the Culver City Action Network (CCAN). He refuted commentors calling CCAN a “shadowy organization,” noting they identify themselves when they speak, and says that we need to listen to everyone, whether they agree or not.

Eriksson was the next to speak, asking Cid about the education level of officers. Cid explained that over 60% of staff possessed bachelor’s degrees, and says that that the city goes beyond what state guidelines set as minimums in areas such as crisis intervention, de-escalation, and implicit bias training. He also mentioned that retraining is still going on in several areas.

He kept his own remarks brief, praising the efforts by Fisch and councilmember Yasmine Imani-McMorrin for their efforts to publish a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a consultant to help with the formation of the mobile crisis response team. He also professed his belief that Culver City was on the cutting edge on this issue compared to the rest of the country.

McMorrin was the next to speak, talking about how part of her platform was her belief in the 50% reallocation of Culver City police funds, saying her views align with those “most in harm,” and professed her hope to make the city a welcoming place for all.

That being said, she recognizes the many aspects of this situation that would make people uncomfortable, particularly the move from the status quo, but says that many of the things that marginalized people have had to deal with are not ok, and the city has a responsibility to respond to that.

She laid out a list of potential changes suggested by various community sources as well as Solidarity Consulting, including not intensifying police usage, removing them from mental health and well being calls, and making sure there is a public safety commission independent from the police department with subpoena power.

Fisch finally made his comments, saying there is “a danger in reckless change, but even more so in blind conservatism.” He said that he believes that the changes are generally modest in the Solidarity Consulting. He disagreed with the hiring freeze from a procedural standpoint, saying he didn’t want to have a meeting every time there is a hiring.

Fisch supported the formation of the public safety committee and the response team as outlined in Solidarity Consulting but wants to keep working through other changes.

After another round of discussion, Chief Cid asked for clarification regarding the timing of the program and the state of MET teams and traffic enforcement, which council responded with the idea that these programs would be slowly phased in, and the responsibilities would not immediately cut out of the department.

Finally, a vote was made after 2 a.m., which received two no’s from Vera and Eriksson on the grounds that it was too late to make a decision and the motion itself lacked clarity.