The City’s newly formed public safety committee held a virtual meeting last week. Courtesy image.

The recently formed Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee held its first community listening session last Thursday to hear from residents who described their experiences with local police officers and recommended public safety changes they would like to see instituted in the city.

The 2-hour discussion held by the 15-member committee, which has been tasked with reviewing proposals for public safety reforms, featured dozens of comments from the more than 100 residents who tuned into the Zoom session last week. Public comment was facilitated by Dr. Kikanza Nuri-Robins, an organizational change consultant and advocate for justice, equity, and inclusion.

“The purpose of this session is for the committee to hear your thoughts and your suggestions,” Nuri-Robins said as she described the committee as a diverse group of volunteers. “They are for the most part, not staff, but your neighbors and they want to hear the things that are on your heart, the things that you’re concerned about, the suggestions you want to make, and the questions you want to raise… We need to hear from the people.”

This work is happening in phases and the first phase is about listening and learning, city staff said before residents began proposing changes to how police candidates are screened for their prospective positions and sharing why the local police department needs to be more accountable to the diverse communities it serves. Several Santa Monicans also raised concerns about budget allocations and the intersectionality of police unions and city government.

Twenty-year resident Karen Wise said she can’t fathom how library closures are affecting disadvantaged youth across the city and took issue with the fact that the police remain funded while tutoring services are currently on hold.

“We all have anecdotes,” Wise said during the meeting. “Mine starts with my dear godson,” who moved in to attend Santa Monica College when he was 19-years-old.

“The entire time he was here, he was subject to being casually stopped by the police in ways that none of the rest of us — white people — have ever dealt with,” Wise said. “My black friends who come here with nice cars, they always say, ‘I might get stopped there.’ … We all have these experiences — we know this happens in our town. It’s not because of evil. It’s because of structural things and we’ve got to do something about it.”

As callers continued to chime in on issues relating to mental health, budgetary problems and the May 31 looting, resident Ciara Brewer touched on the layoffs that are occurring at the local school district as well as the disproportionate number of arrests that occur on residents of color.

“It is horrifyingly anti-Black,” Brewer said, stating Black people account for only 4% of Santa Monica’s population but were 28% of the arrest that occurred between January and May of this year, according to department records. “And so it’s really interesting watching the police department be rewarded,” especially when one begins to look at the actual arrests happening.

Resident Craig Miller said he understood the purpose of the panel is to not delve too deeply into the May 31 “travesty,” but he believes a further look at the occurrences could help inform the policy and budgetary proposals made by the committee. Miller added the internal police department review is likely a month out so he hopes city officials will try to expedite the process a bit in the coming weeks.

Lisa Parson, Project Manager of The Wellbeing Project, said prior to the end of the meeting that the committee hopes to hear from others, not just those who are confident enough to speak in a public setting. Committee members Rasika Flores and Robbie Jones also urged the youth and BIPOC to get involved in the process.

“We need to hear from the people who have really had experiences with the police department,” Jones said, pleading for her fellow community members to come speak their truth and begin the process of healing.

“This is not a one-off process. This is not something that we’ll do and then be done,” Parson added. “Implementing any of these changes is going to be a process unto itself so I just want to make sure everybody who is engaged with us, stays with us because its the community’s outpouring of support and advocacy that got us here,” and that’s what will keep the process going.