The virtual meeting on June 15, 2020 to discuss the Culver City Police Department was a ‘pandemic silver lining’ – there were so many people attending online, they would not have all fit into the council chambers at City Hall. At the beginning of the meeting at 7 pm, City Clerk Jeremy Green noted that there were 40 speakers and 150 written comments. Engagement continued to increase through the length of the five hour-plus meeting, and when council discussion concluded just after midnight, Green offered that there were still 170 comments to be read into the record.
The first item on the agenda, a resolution terminating the state of emergency declared ‘due to civil unrest and violence’ was passed quickly and easily. The second item, authorization of the ‘My Brother’s Keeper Pledge’ by the Mayor and direction to the city manager and the chief of policy on policy review, took the next five hours.
At the end of the meeting, City Manager John Nachbar was tasked with going over the police department’s budget and finding items that could be eliminated, so it could be returned to the council for the expected finalization of the budget at the June 22 meeting. Drawing out what could be removed from the about-to-be-adopted budget was barely the tip of the iceberg, but it was one of the few concrete results of the meeting.
The national conversation to ‘defund the police’ was brought up by both the council and the speakers, with the paradoxical point that the need was urgent, and that real change would not happen overnight.
With Police Chief Scott Bixby out on medical leave, the new Acting Chief of Police, Manuel Cid, spoke. Cid stepped into his role by stating his pride in his department, “all the men and women who serve in the CCPD,” and asked that the budget remain as planned for the year, noting that the level of service was dependent on the level of resources.
Vice Mayor Alex Fisch framed the departmental budget cuts in the context of the across-the-board cutting, driven by the pandemic, saying “What we have done [with the cuts] is try to stay away from payroll. We don’t want to be laying people off. . . and the police department is almost entirely payroll. So we are going to have to look very carefully at what we can eliminate now.”
A formal letter put to the city and the community by the Culver City Action Network made two requests that were supported by a solid majority of the residents who spoke to the meeting; first, decrease the budget for the CCPD, and secondly, establish a citizen oversight committee that would ensure community control.
While several speakers offered praise for the police and more than a few were confused about the concept of ‘defunding,’ the community came out overwhelmingly in favor of reform.
Victoria Newberger offered that “[We give] 47 million dollars to cops, and 11% to public works. As a community we are demanding that we re-evaluate those funds.”
Michael Shirtser also focused on numbers.”The police receive 38 % of the city budget. 38% is more than Parks and Rec, Community Development and Public Works combined. Crime is decreased when people have adequate resources.”
Jeff Schwartz spoke to the problem of having police do social work as a key to the budget issue. “A first year social worker costs about $49,000. A first year police office costs about $75,000. What we need are social services, not more policing.”
While the budget was the tool that the community had picked up with the hope of effecting change, the residents need for police reform was about much more than money.
Emily Glick quoted Campaign Zero’s Police Department Report Card, and noted that CCPD had been awarded a D+. “My own interactions with the police have never been anything but respectful, but I have to recognize that my experiences do not make up the whole picture.”
What came out, in comment after comment, was the racist actions of the police. Not just the department’s history of racism, but it’s current practices. Multiple speakers told of being pulled over for no discernible reason, of being asked about being on parole, of being treated with contempt and aggressive disrespect by police, just because of skin color.
LaToya Clark stated “I support [the defunding] proposals not because I think every police officer is bad or racist. But the truth is, when my black child encounters one, he can’t be sure which officer he’s getting that day. So, I want to decrease as much as possible his contacts with police. That means moving police from places they do not need be, attempting to provide services that are much better handled by other organizations. It requires that money can be used more effectively. It means giving the community control over how we interact with each other as neighbors, how we settle disputes, and of course, how we keep each other safe.”
When the meeting came up to the virtual dais, Council member Lee told two stories of being harassed by CCPD, including one where he was walking home from the train, and was stopped by two police officers and frisked, “. . . they left the contents of my pockets on the ground, and walked away laughing.”
Mayor Goran Eriksson noted that disbanding the force was a possibility, “There are cities that have given up on having their own police department, and then contract out to the County Sheriff, but then we would be giving up the local control that is a part of what the community is requesting. And what we hear from other cities about using the sheriff’s department is not good.”
Eriksson also noted “We are one of very few cities – there are only about 10 in the state – where the council hires the Police Chief. So, your civilian over-site is the city council, right now.”
With a new Acting Chief at the head of the department, the CCPD is entering a new era, and how responsive they can be to the community’s calls for deep systemic reform will be closely watched.