Culver City looks to begin evaluation of police department

The City of Culver City moved to establish a working plan to begin implementing reforms within the Culver City Police Department at its meeting on Monday. The move comes after public outcry in Culver City and the country about police brutality against African Americans in the wake of the George Floyd incident in Minnesota.

There has been much discussion revolving around the Culver City Police Department, overwhelming the public comment sections of city council meetings for the past several weeks. Many calls have come for the defunding of the police, while similar numbers have come in to defend the CCPD. Culver City Lawyer Annette Morasch wrote a letter to the editor to the Culver City Crossroads publication outlining a California Public Records Act (PRA) request she made to the department regarding records related to bookings of minority children, and lawsuits naming Culver City or its police department as defendants. The city attorney’s office and the police department released a joint statement in response.

This move to begin an internal review and reform of the department was promised at the June 15 special council meeting regarding police procedures, which was held in response to protests held in Culver City, as well as neighboring cities and states across the country. To do this, the city has brought in consultant Saul Sarabia, who has worked as the Director of UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program and currently serves as Public Administration and Civic Engagement Faculty in Claremont Lincoln University’s Masters in Organizational Leadership Program. Sarabia also serves as chairperson of LA County’s Probation Reform and Implementation team, which was established in 2018 and charged with “transforming the existing Probation Commission and coordinating existing recommendations for systemic reform of the Probation Department into a comprehensive plan.” 

According to a document published with the meeting agenda, Sarrabia would be contracted by the city until Dec. 2020, and would be working 180 at a rate of $220 an hour, for a total budget of $39,600. His work would be split into four distinct phases: Initial introduction to city staff, codesign approach, and detail timeline, convening of Advisory Committee/Task Force (TF), Facilitation of Community Engagement Process and Synthesis of Emerging Best Practices, and Evaluation, Recommendations on Operationalization of Council Action and Next Steps.

Additionally, the city has brought on the Center for Public Safety Management, a firm that provides detailed analyses of law enforcement services. Their proposal — which would span anywhere from 105 to 135 days and would cost between $59,400 and $66,000 — involves a lengthy review of police systems, workloads, case management systems, and other aspects of the department’s day-to-day operations.

Several changes have already been made to the police department’s funding prior to this action, including creating more unfunded positions within the department to save over $400,000, according to city projections. Most notably, the number of unfunded police officer positions rose from one to four.

In the public comment section, more young people called for even more change, in particular focusing on what they believe is an underfunded Culver City Unified School. However, as another speaker later mentioned, the state controls funding a majority of funding for local schools. The Public Policy Institute of California released data in 2018 that showed that 68% of public school funding came from either the state or federal sources. 22% came from local property taxes, while 10% came from miscellaneous local sources, and 1% from the state lottery.

Speakers also referenced the budget put together by the Culver City Action Network, which calls for reallocating 50% of the police budget towards other city services. Several speakers referenced large cities like Seattle and Los Angeles committing to making similar cuts, and questioned why it was difficult for Culver City to do something similar. This was a topic discussed at the June 22 council meeting, and some advocates were confused as to why this reallocation still wasn’t being presented.

The council then began their deliberation with an acknowledgement that some type of change was necessary, and that a direction should be given to the police soon to give them time to understand what will be expected of it. The council also wanted to emphasize the idea that the terms “abolish” and “defund” are stronger than the actual actions that are being asked for.

“This isn’t about divesting, it’s about reinvesting,” councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells stated.

After about an hour of deliberation, a motion was made to move forward with the outlined evaluations of the police department, and that motion passed unanimously.