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Calls to reform, defund police dominate council conversations

During last week’s Los Altos and Mountain View city council meetings, the cities’ respective police chiefs shared their plans for reviewing department policies amid national protests against police brutality. 

One change promised by both Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea and Mountain View Police Chief Max Bosel was to immediately discontinue the use of the carotid hold, a chokehold that goes against one of the requests of the “8 Can’t Wait” initiative, a project of Campaign Zero to bring quick change to police departments. Gov. Gavin Newsom last week ordered state law enforcement agencies to discontinue use of the carotid hold.

No other types of chokeholds, including the one used when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds until he died May 25, are permitted by either the Los Altos or Mountain View police.

“All police policies are being scrutinized, and rightfully so,” Galea said during the Los Altos council’s meeting.

Reallocating resources

Local residents requested revisions to city budgets in addition to police practices, a message city leaders across the country are facing in the movement to defund police. The campaign to defund and divert the financial resources to other social services comes at a time when the Los Altos Police Department needs funds for a study on upgrading its police station and Mountain View officers need new cars and rifles.

A study session on Los Altos’ 2020-2021 budget, which occurred prior to the June 9 council meeting, featured intense dialogue on the role of police officers, with Galea listening in. Residents upset by the lack of racial profiling data provided on the Los Altos Police Department’s website compared with the Mountain View department’s website questioned why the city’s public safety budget was higher than that for community development, recreation and community services, and maintenance services combined.

The “8 Can’t Wait” campaign focuses on three goals: immediate harm reduction, comprehensive community safety and fully defunding the police with the proposal to abolish existing institutions and build a new system that “ends the carceral state.”

In the Town Crier’s coverage area, demands from those residents who weighed in included taking only a portion of the funds allocated to law enforcement and, as Campaign Zero organizers recommend, “reinvesting it into the community.”

Residents who spoke at the meeting suggested withholding part of the requested $5 million patrol services budget and using it to address deeper-seated issues in Los Altos, such as establishing a fund for mental health services and social workers or hiring psychologists trained for handling crises.

“I call on you guys ... to have the courage to decrease police funding between 5 and 10% and reallocate those funds to services that support lower-income and black and brown residents,” resident Ashley Cai said.

Because the meeting was a study session, the council did not take action, but Mayor Jan Pepper said an item may be placed on the council’s agenda in the future.

A good-faith offer

At the Mountain View council’s meeting, Bosel presented data that showed out of the more than 36,000 calls for service his department received in 2009, only 26 resulted in the use of force. None of the uses of force caused injuries or fatalities.

“Mountain View officers are trained holistically to constantly work to de-escalate, to help those in need at their pace and to ensure that every possible avenue is taken before force is even brought to the table as an option,” Bosel and Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga said in a statement the day after the council meeting.

While constituents were encouraged by the Mountain View Police Department’s commitment to reviewing and improving its policies, the request for additional patrol equipment met with heavy criticism.
“I don’t see why we need 30 new rifles added into the budget,” resident Grace Calhoun said. “The Stanford prison experiment, run in our own backyard, clearly shows the corruption that can (result) from power. Guns exacerbate this.”

Jennifer Avalos of the Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform endorsed the concept of reassigning some police funds to those trained to handle mental crises. A graduate of USC’s social work program, Avalos said there is evidence that police departments that hire social workers experience reduced levels of violence. Collaboration could pay off, she added.

After hearing residents out, Bosel recommended deferring some of his department’s budget “in good faith,” because, for now, officers can continue to use their existing equipment.

In an effort to forge a compromise, Councilwoman Alison Hicks called for the council to defer funding altogether for drone equipment and rifles as well as supplemental funding for parking enforcement and RV towing.

The council agreed, and the budget items will be brought up again for review in February as part of the fiscal mid-year update.

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