The long agenda of the City Council’s July 13, 2020 featured pandemic information, transportation evolution and plenty of community input – but nothing as pressing to the public as Action Item A-2 “Consideration of a Proposed Process to Review the Culver City Police Department’s Use of Force Policies.”
The concern from the community that has been part of a national movement since the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent community activism have brought both police use of force and racial profiling into the spotlight. At the June 22, 2020 council meeting that approved the budget, the police department volunteered cuts that featured not filling empty job positions – a simple way to save money in a place where most expenses come under the heading of payroll.
The community’s continued request for more cuts, reaching up to 50% of the department’s budget, was a topic for many speakers. Dozens of residents addressed the topic, with ‘defund the police’ being the the most supported position. Some of those who spoke against the departmental changes, including Sam Gertsman and Keith Jones, took the angle that any change of budget for the department would have a negative impact on the community.
Many who spoke to the need for changing the police, including Paula Amezola, the chair of the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission, noted that the need for more funding for parks and recreation programs was tremendous. “… as a commissioner I know first hand the capital improvements and projects that were impacted with the budget cuts. During this active Coronavirus pandemic our PRCS response is crucial to ensuring that we care for our parks, recreation and community services and live up to our proclamation that “ Parks Make Life Better.” She went on to cite a number of specific capital improvements that needed funding.
The council was laudatory of the work done by staff to move the item forward, and Mayor Goran Eriksson began by citing the need for clarity. “If this is going to be productive … it has to be a workable solution and not based on anything but facts and data.” While the pandemic weighs heavily on projected income, he concluded, [While it may be difficult to approve] money for consultants, even though we have budget issues, we need to do this.”
Vice Mayor Fisch offered thoughts about how public service had changed over the years. “It used to be, back in the 1960’s, if you had a heart attack, the people you would call were the police. There were no paramedics…” Seeing the shift in police funding as a part of the evolution of government and community services offered a simple example of what future benefits might look like.
Hiring a consultant to do a study for the city on the police department’s use of force was a key part of the proposal, ensuring that a neutral outside party would be writing up the report. The consultant will convene a Task Force to “synthesize and integrate community input, subject matter expertise, and research findings on reallocation of police services.” The consultant and the Task Force will be pressed to work quickly, with the contract ending in 90 days.
The hiring of Saul Sarabia and Center for Public Safety Management is agreed not to exceed $100,000, and the study is to be completed in three months.
The motion passed the council with a unanimous vote, five to zero.
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