The City Council Meeting coming up on Monday, April 26, 2021 has been inspiring strategy from all corners. The agenda item on Public Safety has had more publicity than some of the movies contending for Oscars this weekend. In the last month, the “Protect Culver City” crowd has run a virtual road show through every neighborhood in the city with police officers on hand to offer statistics on crime. The “Defund the Police” faction has sent emails and offered talking points, along with a live rally scheduled to take place over the weekend.
Both groups are asking residents to speak to the council, and the meeting is sure to be long, passionate and opinionated. The challenge is that so many Culver City residents are convinced of the rightness of their perspective, there has been a lack of critical thinking on the matter.
Critical thinking is, in fact, the only way to move the issue forward.
After the last four years of daily (hourly?) hysteria on social media, we are accustomed to being spun around by rhetoric and persuaded by loud voices. The important ability to sit back and just look at the evidence (without already having a conclusion) is almost a lost art.
My grandfather was a cop – actually, he was a “copper” which was what they were called because of the metal in their shoes. He walked a beat in Chicago in the 30’s and 40’s. If his children had been male, they probably would have joined the department; but both girls became teachers instead. (Those were the rules for gender in those days.) One of them became the board chair of the Chicago Teachers Union Pension Fund. She chose where to invest billions of dollars. It was far more important than any position at the precinct, and her own father admitted as much. Deciding what to put money towards is what creates society.
As Culver City considers redesigning public safety, people keep talking about “police” and overlooking “budget.” What we are talking about is expense.
When there is a crime, the police react. That is how the department is currently designed. Being reactive is expensive, and when you can plan ahead and be proactive, that is where you should spend the money.
On the zoom call offered to residents of Culver City with Keith Jones, Scott Zeidman, Officer Marissa Yabkov and Captain Jason Sims, the statistic was brought out that burglaries are up 82%. Since the original city council discussion last year, we have actually hired more officers rather than downsizing. So how do we account for this huge increase in burglaries while we are so staffed up? (Empty buildings are far easier to break into; the end of the pandemic will likely see an 80% drop in burglaries.) The number of police is not the factor here.
The fact is that police do not prevent crime. Social policies prevent crime. The task of the police to solve crimes after they occur. Cutting money away from squad cars and investing it in social workers will reduce the need for squad cars. Fewer armed officers will mean more people with training to diffuse dangerous situations. Showing up with a weapon is a formula for creating violence.
There’s a space between ‘no change’ and ‘total change’ where we can experiment and see how it works. Like the pilot program on drones, getting a few new ideas out of the box and seeing what the effect will be gives us data to work with, and examples to cite. Then we can craft intelligent policy.
As Andrew Lachmann of the Culver City Finance Advisory Committee noted during the beginning of the conversation last year, when one department is taking up that much of the General Fund, it’s an issue for every other department.
Don’t listen to the propaganda machine. Don’t listen to social media. Speak to the council, but speak for yourself. Your idea on reimagining public safety might be the best one we hear all night.