Council continues discussion on policing, public safety reform

The city council of Culver City continued discussions Monday on public safety reforms following the completion of two consultant reports.

In June of last year, city Council tasked city staff with leading a 90-day study and bring back recommendations on options to reimagine public safety in Culver City through shifting resources and reducing the reliance on law enforcement to address various community needs. 

The Council also approved professional agreements with consultants — Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) and Saul Sarabia from Solidarity Consulting — to conduct a workload and deployment analysis, review staffing levels and organizational structure, and assist with data collection and examination related to race equity and social justice amongst other related services.

Incomplete versions of those reports were presented in October, with the final versions being made available to the public on Monday prior to the meeting. CPSM’s recommendations focus on the operations of the Culver City Police Department (CCPD), while Solidarity Consulting focused on the racial justice aspects of policing and public safety in Culver City. These reports include over 100 potential recommendations for the city to follow.

A detailed breakdown of these reports will be published in an upcoming issue of the Culver City News.

While no concrete action or direction on the recommendations presented by the City Manager’s Office or the consultants was given at that meeting, council approved the reallocation of $100,000 from the Police Department as part of the FY 20-21 budget.

This reallocation provides additional mental health services and case management from Special Services for Groups (SSG) to compliment the CCPD Mental Health Evaluation Team (MET) as they provide their services.

Following over 50 public comments, vice mayor Daniel Lee kicked off the discussion with his view on public safety as a black man living in the United States and in California, pushing back against the idea that Culver City Police are immune to the racial biases that are being talked about nationwide.

“When people mention public safety, I have to ask, ‘for whom?,’” Lee started. “Because when people say, ‘things are great in Culver City,’ and ‘things are great in my neighborhood,’ is that for all of your neighbors?”

Lee then talks about living your own personal experiences, but also listening to the experiences of others. He emphasized the fact that youth of color have reported harassment from Culver City Police, and talked about how he was pulled over several times while living in Culver City, and how he was laughed at while being stopped and frisked by Culver City police.

Lee’s next statement — while praising the CCPD — was perhaps his most polarizing. 

“We have a high quality police force, we really do. But all police forces in the United States are racist and biased. We live in a white supremacist society,” Lee said.

He continued by stating the fact that individuals themselves are not responsible for the society and are not generally reflected by society, but believes people need to accept these facts about policing and society because youth of color have lived through it.

Lee admitted that while he supported the recommendations they provided, he believed that Solidarity Consulting “didn’t go far enough,” and that recommendations were needed to provide alternatives to police interactions, not incarcerations.

“The simple suggestion to deploy a mental health professional instead of a police officer should not be controversial. It’s something that I have done myself, it is something that a number of people in my master’s and my doctorate program do on a daily basis.”

Lee also criticized staff, saying that the staff report gave the impression that a pilot program with SSG was not set in stone, and says that white supremacy is something that has infiltrated all institutions in the United States, city staff and council included. 

The report explicitly states that $100,000 was allocated from the budget “for the purpose of providing additional mental health services and case management from SSG to augment existing services provided by the CCPD MET in partnership with a clinician from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (DMH).” The staff report then recommends “direction on how to design the pilot program with SSG.”

Lee also reminded staff that he had asked for a comparison of cost between sending a mobile crisis intervention team against the current deployment of the MET team, which he claimed would result in significant savings. 

Following Lee’s comments, councilmember Albert Vera weighed in, expressing that Culver City should lead by example as a model for human rights, and that simply transferring money from one budget to another isn’t enough.

“We need to keep front of mind what it is that we are solving,” Vera claimed. “[Are we] just removing funding from the police to punish them for things that we have seen, or are we investing in our employees in our police department and other departments to educate them in just behaviors?”

Vera acknowledged the desire by many to defund the police, but noted that there is a significant population that does not. He also acknowledged his own worries regarding sending mental health professionals without police in certain cases, and noted that they are not equipped to handle potentially dangerous situations they may be placed in.

“There are just too many variables,” Vera expressed.

However, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon previously mentioned by Lee has reported 0 fatalities using that method since its creation in 1989.

McMorrin weighed in, noting that her platform was based in equity and the defunding of the police by 50%. She attested that her daughter has been stopped in the middle of the day by CCPD, and says that while her late father was an officer, people need to be “clear eyed about what’s happening.”

She then alluded to the idea that Vera brought up of ‘punishing the police’ with fund reallocation as “a harmful characterization, because it is not that.”

“We have community members being harmed, and we need to respond to that immediately,” McMorrin professed. 

Like Lee, she implored white people in the city to listen to their neighbors of color to work towards a solution, but simply asking for unity would not be appropriate.

“Calls for unity without accountability just isn’t it,” she explained.

Councilmember Eriksson opened his comments with a point that was clearly on display that night: Culver City is a divided city.

Similarly, to Lee, Eriksson expressed disappointment in the scale of Solidarity Consulting’s recommendations, hoping for something more. He noted that many of the recommendations that were made were already present in the incomplete report last year, but believes that it can be improved on.

Eriksson also noted that many similar efforts in the area and around the country have been halted due to legal efforts. He believes that Culver City can be an innovator in this regard, but it needs to be handled with care. 

Specifically, Eriksson suggested the creation of an Ad Hoc Subcommittee to “take this in pieces.”

Finally, Mayor Alex Fisch put his comments forward, agreeing with Eriksson on the idea of an Ad Hoc Subcommittee to focus on specific issues under the public safety umbrella.

He also echoes the hopes that the shortcomings of the report by Solidarity Consulting were things that could be tackled for a more ideal solution.