I write to ask that we, as a city, and you Council Members, as our elected officials, immediately rethink the role of, and the manner of, policing of our city.
This past Sunday, May 31, as police IN OUR CITY, right here on Ocean Avenue at the entrance to the Pier, fired teargas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters. Why?
This should never have happened. It is the result of a fear-based, control-based approach to policing which our small city cannot countenance. As a small, prosperous (not withstanding the current budget crisis) city with open access to the City of LA we must collaborate closely with all officials, emergency responders, and law enforcement in surrounding areas. That does NOT mean that we must, or should, follow the same law enforcement approach as the LAPD or the LA County Sheriffs’ Department. In fact, we should do everything we can to learn from what is wrong with their approach. We need holistic public safety, not aggressive law enforcement.
We are Santa Monica, as our T shirts and stickers say. We claim to be at the forefront of sustainability and well being. Sunday demonstrated that we are at the forefront of nothing.
Apparently we are followers of archaic, aggressive, provocative, and ineffective approaches to law enforcement. We looked foolish and hard headed, with a tank like vehicle and weapons pointed at peaceful protesters even as looters rampaged a few blocks away. We must use this moment as a springboard for change.
It is time for bold action. It is time to create a new approach to public safety in Santa Monica.
Our budget and our agencies must be built for OUR city and aligned with the values we purport to stand for. To that end, I ask that the following steps be taken immediately:
1. Apologize and publicly resolve to do better. City Council, Acting City Manager Dilg and Police Chief Renaud must explain immediately, clearly and concisely why they chose to stand off against peaceful protesters rather than letting them march. You all must immediately issue an apology to the community. No qualifications, no excuses.
2. Immediately change our approach to public safety.
a. Declare a different approach and attitude toward policing that is more collaborative and less confrontational.
b. Adopt the “8 can’t wait” policies and pledge to use violence only as a last resort
c. Give police the tools they need to keep that pledge: train every member of the police department in mediation and de-escalation.
3. Convene a ‘blue ribbon’ task force to investigate and report what happened and why. Santa Monicans deserve to know why and how police behaved the way they did, how and why the looting got out of control, and what we need to do to ensure public safety.
4. Create a process for real change to occur, and a system for accountability. We must initiate a process, facilitated by outside experts (e.g. the world-renowned Santa Monica based Center for Dispute Resolution) to invite the public to a facilitated dialogue about what happened. We must hear residents’ and business owners’ frustrations, invite recommendations for change, and build priorities for public safety and security. We need to create a new model based on what we want and need — a friendly, safe, humane city that is resident-, business-, tourism-, and worker-friendly. We must address the ways in which we, and especially our own police department, discriminate against black and brown people, against the unhoused, and yet still fail to ensure the safety of our people, or the integrity of our places.
5. Re-consider our budget in this time of crisis. Cutting all budgets indiscriminately except law enforcement is leading to resentment and frustration on the part of residents, businesses, and city staff, who see city services many of us value being eliminated.
A specific example of such poor priorities that directly impacts public safety is doing away with school crossing guards. Crossing guards serve as eyes and ears of the community. They know us, they greet us with a smile, they ask about our kids, AND they collaborate with police. Our crossing guards know who belongs, who is new to the neighborhood, and who is just cruising around. They see who is speeding and who yields to pedestrians, who is kind and who needs an extra smile. They give directions to the lost and know what to report to police. I would gladly cut the police budget to pay for the crossing guard program. In fact, I’d advocate cutting the police budget enough to greatly expand the crossing guard program, to increase pay and training for crossing guards and to add them to areas around parks, farmer’s markets, the beach, etc. They would make our town much safer than police patrols do.
6. House our key workers in our own town. We need our teachers, our city staff, our first responders, and social service providers to be able to live here. They should be our neighbors. They should know us personally and have as much of a stake in our public safety as we do. They and their families should benefit from their own work.
Let’s make this moment mean something. The time to act is now. It starts with police reform NOW.
Karen Wise, Santa Monica