Last week’s City Council meeting on new police surveillance technologies sent a discouraging message about a majority of our elected representatives, our Police Department, and many of our fellow Culver City residents.
First, the whole process was a flawed effort to jam things through without seriously engaging the issues and responding to community concerns. A special Council meeting was declared off schedule, timed for a date when the incoming Mayor and only nonwhite Council member, current Vice Mayor Thomas Small, was known to be unavailable due to a scheduled surgery. After months of ignoring community concerns, the drone purchase was pushed through on the basis of last-minute changes to the proposed policy announced only mid-way through the meeting and without any time for considered back-and-forth. Thankfully, for procedural reasons Council Member Meghan Sahli-Wells’ opposition to the license-plate reader technology was sufficient to defeat that.
Second, instead of providing a balanced assessment, the PD conducted a one-sided advocacy campaign for its purchases. It failed to acknowledge or address the fact that all the license-plate reader data was to be stored on remote servers controlled by Vigilant Solutions, not the PD, and that this raised serious concerns about privacy and access by immigration enforcement EVEN IF the PD itself did not actively share data. Moreover, the PD incorrectly assured the public that state law protected against such third-party sharing, mischaracterizing mere recommendations to the PD as prohibitions applicable to Vigilant. With respect to drones, the PD responded with non sequiturs to concerns that drone surveillance was not limited to situations where there was a specific indication of a crime in progress or a threat to public safety. Instead, it merely reiterated assurances that there would be no “random” surveillance, as if anyone had thought drones would be sent out based on a roll of the dice. No wonder the ACLU continued to oppose the purchase even after the band-aids were applied.
Third, three Council members (Clarke, Cooper, Eriksson) and several community members were defiantly tone deaf not only to general civil liberties concerns but also to concerns about the racially disproportionate impact and risks of expanded policing and surveillance. Rather than confront difficult truths and listen to the worries that residents of color expressed about the risks to their children and grandchildren, we got grandstanding from white homeowners about their (and, in some cases, our) good personal experiences with the police, as if that were sufficient to rebut the concerns. According to data reported by the CCPD, ( go to s3.amazonaws.com/nixle/uploads/pub_media/user32103-1469120927-media1 ) African Americans constituted about 40% of people CCPD stopped for field interviews, nearly five times their share of Culver City’s population; meanwhile, white people were interviewed at half the rate of the population share.
Fourth, a number of the Council members who supported the drone purchase did so on the basis of their purported commitment to ongoing Council oversight of the PD. Such assurances ring hollow given the Council’s recent track record, as discussed in Culver City Action Network’s recent Sanctuary City Report Card (Go to culvercityaction.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/sanctuary-report-card-2018-03-082.pdf ) For instance, after the PD was revealed to have official policies on immigration enforcement that contradicted previous public statements and the recently adopted Sanctuary resolution, the offending policies were removed but never replaced with appropriate ones. Repeated calls for such policies were ignored by the PD and rejected by the Mayor. And yet when necessary to advance the drone purchase, we saw the PD draft extensive policies, explain how important they were to training and discipline, and the Council rely on those policies and its own promised oversight.
Fifth, rather than grapple honestly with any of the above, in the aftermath of the meeting we have seen a spate of complaints about how victimized are those who dominate City government. A small minority of those who objected to the purchases behaved badly and provocatively at the Council meeting. That has been the thing that many drone supporters, and Council Member Clarke, (got to culvercitycrossroads.com/2018/03/19/dear-editor-kindness-will-overcome/ have chosen to speak out about, in an apparent effort to discredit dissent and whitewash the problems that coexist with our city’s many wonderful strengths.
True kindness requires active listening and responsiveness to the hurt that others feel, not defensiveness and self-congratulation. We hope that Culver City can do better in the future.
Anne Diga Jacobsen
(all Culver City residents)