City Council approved a raft of recommendations this week designed to promote racial equity in Santa Monica.
Among the many decisions in the seven hour meeting were authorization for a new Police Commission, instituting Equity and Inclusion Officers in every City department and creation of the Santa Monica Black Lives Association (a nonprofit designed by Black community leaders to support Black Santa Monicans).
“We hope this is the beginning of changes in our community that will be the basis for systemic change in our society,” said Barry Snell, a member of the Black Agenda for Santa Monica Steering Committee who presented to Council Tuesday night. “The nonprofit is in progress and we hope to have the entire community represented. That’s how we’ll create the change we need.”
The new commission will oversee ongoing reforms to the police department including a future discussion revising use of force policies.
Lisa Parsons, who worked with Snell and others in recent weeks to develop the Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee’s report, said the purpose of the committee was to think about how Santa Monica could look at public safety as something beyond catching criminals.
She said the reforms are about making sure the city is supporting people so that they’re never at risk of needing to have a negative encounter with the police department in the first place, and making sure that the right people are in place to address issues that are more mental health issues than crime related
Parsons said the work of a civilian oversight committee could include potentially diversifying the groups who could respond to 911 dispatch calls.
Staff will work with the new commission to return to council with more details on use of force revisions and training revisions. Council approved doubling the Neighborhood Resource Officer Program from four to eight and requesting more help from the County on mental health interventions.
Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day supported the ideas but he was unsure if the costs would make the initiatives feasible. Despite the hesitation, councilmembers agreed unanimously “to build a more equitable and just Santa Monica.”
Council did not shave $8 million off the Santa Monica Police Department’s budget but did say it would work toward a more balanced investment of city resources across all departments.
The Santa Monica Police Officers Association released a statement praising the effort put into the discussion but warning against new restrictions and cuts.
The statement said officers are committed to listening and value progressive policies that match community values but said they would not support actions that they felt made the community more dangerous.
“Investments in training that keep important issues like deescalation and implicit bias front and center in the development of our officers are more than worthwhile, budget cuts that would limit our ability to carry out that important work are damaging,” said the statement. “Fortifying our ranks with mental health professionals who are uniquely equipped to handle specific service calls makes a lot of sense, limiting the public’s ability to access those and other services does not.”
The statement said the association is ready to work on reasonable changes that are within the scope of the law.
Mayor Kevin McKeown feels like progress was made this week.
“In a series of unanimous votes, the Council demonstrated steadfast commitment to real change for racial equity,” McKeown said. “Our actions are an acknowledgment of and apology to all those who’ve been hurt by systemic injustices. We can’t change the past, but we acted tonight to assure a better future.”
Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said at the conclusion of the hourslong discussion the city has put an extraordinary amount of time into creating and running its Public Safety Reform Advisory committee throughout the last couple of months.
“And we did that for precisely this reason: We believed community engagement was the most important first step and we believe we needed to do it for real and in a meaningful way,” Dilg said. “And I think (councilmembers) have affirmed tonight that you believe that was a strong and positive process.”
“At this point, we do need time to now take your direction and implement it,” Dilg added, mentioning staff will bring back an ordinance to create a Police Commission, advance the formation of a nonprofit organization and review SMPD’s use-of-force policies as directed by the council.
“With that, I just want to be sure that we’re setting expectations appropriately… As you have pointed out these things cost money, they require staff time, they require reallocating resources. We need time to do that and they require legal work from your very busy city attorney’s office. So you have given very, very strong direction tonight, and what we would like is to have some time to implement that.”