Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2021  
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  Reimagining Public Safety Results on a Community Schism
May 19, 2021

The Reimaging Public Safety Task Force was created with each City Council member nominating three members for a total of 21. As it turned out, five of seven City Council members already had some level of bias against police, so 15 of the 21 Task Force members not surprisingly were generally inclined to also have a bias against police. It is also no surprise that the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force majority came up with plans that dramatically reduced funding for police, resulting in reducing the number of officers by up to 35. The Task Force recommended reallocating over $10 million in funds to homelessness, Office of Neighborhood Safety and mental health response services.

The residents of Richmond are widely divided on this subject and deeply and emotionally committed to their positions with almost no indications of a willingness to compromise. I have copied two emails below that illustrate the intransigence of the these positions. The first is from a person who sees “racialized police brutality” as a systemic problem with the solution of slashing the police budget in half and reallocating funds to healthcare, housing and education.

Dear Mayor Butt, Lieutenant Stonebraker, City Manager Snideman, and Richmond City Council Members,

My name is Maria Rodriguez, and I am a resident of Richmond California. I am writing to you today to demand that you immediately redirect funding from the Richmond Police Department towards BIPOC communities.

The senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others have demonstrated the infuriating prevalence of police violence and brutality in communities across America. While these events are devastating, they should not come as a surprise. Since the 1600s, policing has been a tool to enforce the social order — an order that oppresses and brutalizes BIPOC Americans.

For too long, policy-makers and law enforcement have upheld a system founded upon racialized fear to brutalize and devastate BIPOC communities. Additionally, most policing reforms (e.g. implicit bias training, diversification, and enhanced accountability) fail to address the root problems inherent to policing, as demonstrated by the implementation (and clear failure) of these programs in the Minneapolis Police Department.

Thus, I am demanding that you take the following actions immediately:

1. Defund the Richmond Police Department by reinvesting 50% of this budget in BIPOC communities, collaborating with leaders from these communities to identify areas of need (including, but not limited to healthcare, housing, and education). This could mean transforming the role of first responders — for most calls, social workers, mental health experts, and community leaders have the right expertise to solve the problem, as seen in Dallas.
2. Abolish qualified immunity and other legal protections for police officers who have committed acts of violence. Nearly every single officer involved in racialized violence has never faced serious punishment. Hold officers to the same legal standard as the rest of the citizenry and punish these acts of unnecessary violence.
3. Demilitarize the local police force immediately. This includes, but is not limited to, stopping the deployment of excessively militarized police (especially in the ongoing demonstrations), restricting police departments from using federal grant money for military weaponry, returning whatever military equipment has already been received, banning no-knock raids, and restricting the use of SWAT teams.
4. Open investigations into all officers with reports of police abuse and release body counts for all officers.
5. Cut all ties between the Richmond Police Department and local public schools.
6. Ban ICE from all protests and gatherings in Richmond.

These actions are only first steps. Racialized police brutality is a systemic problem that requires federal, state, and local action, and I am demanding that you do your part. Black Lives Matter.

Maria Rodriguez.

The second email (below) is identical to over a thousand that I have received that recognize while additional funding for homelessness, mental health and gun violence and intervention is desirable, such funding should not occur by reallocating funds from the police, particularly at a time when gun violence is on the rise again.

Dear Mayor,:

I am writing to ask that you take our community's safety and best interest to heart. A cut to the Richmond Police Department would mean 32 less officers on our streets and would have significant impacts on crime, response times and overall public safety.

We all know that additional funding towards community services and intervention programs would help with homelessness, gun violence prevention and intervention, and the mental health crisis on our streets. But slashing the Richmond Police Department's budget without a thorough plan only means 32 less police officers working in our community -- that's just not safe.

Richmond has already seen what defunding our police department means for the city. Our police department has been understaffed with officers forced to work overtime, making it harder for them to be there when we need them most. We've also seen the impacts of a defunded police department in cities like Vallejo and Oakland where crime is on the rise. Richmond deserves better.

We don't need to defund our police -- we need a DETAILED plan for REAL reform.

I urge you to vote NO on budget cuts to the Richmond Police Department. We can make reforms that make sense without putting our friends, family and neighbors at risk.


Jan Mignone

While many cities are involved in similar debates, there has been little implementation of the proposed solutions to indicate their success. After Vallejo’s police force was reduced, the result was disastrous (“This California city defunded its police force. Killings by officers soared”). The debate over police budgets continues in Oakland (“Oakland mayor’s proposed budget increases police spending”) with competing surveys showing dramatically different public opinion results.

During Monday’s presentation, Schaaf said police spending was increased because many Oakland residents want it to be. She said the city has to “center our decisions not on the loudest voices but on the voices of those impacted.” In a January city survey, about 43% of the 1,862 people who responded said the city should have more police officers patrolling neighborhoods and responding to 911 calls. Another 36% said “reducing spending on police services” should be a top consideration in stemming the city’s budget gap. A separate survey by the Oakland Rising coalition — a collection of nonprofits and community activists that have called to defund the police department — found that 65% of the 1,117 asked said they wanted to cut the police budget in half.

Some cities that are considering public safety reform are looking at policies that Richmond has long since adopted, such as civilian police review boards and body cameras.

Richmond is divided into two camps, one that supports police and sees them as indispensable but believes some reforms, special training and policy changes could improve services. The other camp sees police as the antithesis of community safety. As former City Council member and AC Transit Director Jovanka Beckles put it last night, “Police don’t make us safe.” RPA members continue the dogma that police aren’t really needed if we address the “root cause of crime.” While there may be some truth in that, there is absolutely no evidence that throwing $10 million at homelessness, ONS and mental health will reduce crime to the point that 35 police officers are no longer needed. It is nothing but an unfounded leap of faith.

Although the RPA is famous for their unwillingness to compromise, there are opportunities to do just that. Mental health intervention is one category eligible for ARPA funds. Why not use $2-3 million  of ARPA funds to create the mental health response unit the RPA and Reimagining Public Safety Task Force want, operate it as a pilot project and see how it works out?