Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn released an extensive statement today addressing a number of issues, including budget cuts to his department and what it will mean, as well as calls for reforms and the spotlight shone on law enforcement following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last month as Black Lives Matter demonstrations continue across the nation.
On Wednesday, June 17, 2020, the Arcata City Council approved a balanced budget for the 2020/2021 fiscal year. City staff worked tirelessly to craft an unprecedented budget during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had a catastrophic impact on City revenues.
Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer outlined the budget plan which included a $752,000 reduction in the Arcata Police Department's budget from the 2019/2020 fiscal year. The budget process took several iterations to get to this point. APD's Police Business Manager, Eileen Verbeck, saw opportunities for APD to participate in the painstaking process of balancing a budget with significant anticipated revenue shortfalls.
Eileen recommended, and I authorized, the following reductions to the APD budget to assist the City with achieving its goal of delivering a balanced budget to the City Council: Overtime and part-time salaries; training and advertising/recruitment; IT equipment; office supplies; juvenile diversion supplies; equipment/maintenance; vehicles; capital projects; and personnel.
These budget reductions are temporary and City Manager Diemer pledged from the beginning of this process that contained within the budget planning strategies were specific measures and thresholds that, as revenues are restored as Arcata continues the re-opening process, so too will the City services that have been temporarily placed on hold. What that will look like for the Police Department could be different as the City Council has recognized, and rightfully so, that this is an opportunity to re-imagine policing in Arcata and re-build our Department to create a best practices model that clearly defines the role of the Police Officer and creates other mechanisms in which to provide services that do not necessarily have to be provided by a uniformed and armed peace officer.
Until this vision materializes the Arcata Police Department enjoys the full support of a City Council and a City Manager who believe and trust in the work we are doing as the only service organization who never closes. APD is the de facto place where all community members go for help. What an awesome calling and responsibility and something no APD member takes for granted.
The budget for APD heading into 2020/2021 will enable core services to continue to be delivered. No one's safety is at risk as the City Council made it a priority to insure basic services will not be compromised. To that end, community members will continue to benefit from the Police Service Assistants staffing the public counter, a Dispatcher ready to receive your call for assistance at any time, our Police Service and Parking Enforcement personnel to provide critical safety and customer based services, Investigations personnel who manage the crime solving process, Supervisors who provide those essential checks and balances, Volunteers who do so many things for so many people, Juvenile Diversion Counselors who direct the youth and families of Arcata away from the criminal justice system and the uniformed cop on the beat who will respond to anyone's time of need to provide essential services, safety, resources, encouragement and hope.
Through attrition APD was able to realize some salary savings that does help the City during this short term revenue reduction period. We rely upon Measure Z funds to staff our Juvenile Diversion Counselors and School Resource Officer; essential services that are a priority for Arcata.
The budget also contains equipment and systems that enable APD to continue to grow as an organization; building upon the best practices we have initiated and the City Council has supported as well as the on-going process of implementing the recommendations from the National Police Foundation. That equipment includes an on-line reporting system which will revolutionize how some crime reports are filed with APD. Fluctuations in staffing as well as increasing demands on law enforcement require us to continually be in search of emerging technologies and equipment that is both affordable and allows for police services to continue to be delivered albeit in different formats.
On-line reporting is coming and community members can expect instruction in the next several months on how to file their own crime reports. On-line reporting creates convenience for the reporting party and frees up time for APD Patrol, under the direction of Patrol Lieutenant Bart Silvers, to direct resources pro-actively to solve crime and quality of life challenges when many of the traditional tools to provide these critical services to the satisfaction of community members have been deemed no longer viable options; more barriers to Police Officers having the ability to do their job.
I have assigned Investigations Lieutenant Todd Dokweiler to work directly alongside me to develop a framework, along with our Public Safety Committee, to implement the immediate reforms as directed by the City Council at their June 17 meeting; to forecast how Police-Community Service Officer positions and other social service entities can be incorporated into APD Operations as services are restored; and to develop a strategic plan to bring civilian oversight of law enforcement to the Arcata Police Department; something that is long overdue and can only make us better.
Where community members will see some of the budget impacts are an increase in response times to non-emergency calls for service and a reduction in self-initiated enforcement such as traffic violations, urinating in public, smoking, drunk in public and other quality of life crimes that are a priority for Arcata but not so much for the criminal justice system as a whole.
The salary savings APD has achieved is because of vacant Police Officer positions that do not impact our ability to provide basic services but do manifest themselves in more quality of life impacts as seen in the attached videos in Valley West. We need property owners who do not abandon their property for those who live nearby to suffer the consequences and leave it to a Police Department with 14% less staffing than just a few short months ago to manage. This is where the impact will be felt which is why I have authorized 368 hours in Police Officer overtime for the next 30 days to restore order in Valley West and why City Manager Diemer created the Building Official position so that private property owners are held accountable and can no longer use their empty lots as dumping grounds.
APD has a walk through at this Valley West property this Monday with the City of Arcata's Building Official. And while community members in Valley West feel abandoned by the APD the exact opposite is true. If property owners cannot police themselves, and as the capacity for mental health, housing and addiction services continues to grow but is not quite where we need it yet, the City Council and City Manager fully support APD allocating the funds to restore order in any Arcata neighborhood where disorder has reached levels that are just inexcusable.
Our ability to enforce quality of life crimes has been crippled by legislation and court decisions; impacts not seen in the courtroom but play out every hour of every day in Arcata and communities throughout the country that must leave some community members wondering, "Why is our Police Department so inept?" Despite the budget challenges and the impact to our staffing, when crime and quality of life impacts meet thresholds where the safety of community members is at risk or the potential for crime and disorder to manifest becomes great, APD will work as a team to restore order and a sense of safety. We still have a murder case to solve and no budget challenge will stand in the way of finding the remaining key pieces of information that will transition the Josiah Lawson murder investigation back into court.
It takes money to deliver public safety services and APD has the full support of the City Council and City Manager Diemer to do what it takes to insure those responsible for Josiah's murder are held accountable. As we collaborate with all of our stakeholders on future budgets, mechanisms must be created for community members to have a voice in how policing is accomplished in Arcata.
For the next several months it may take longer to achieve our collective goals but APD is committed to figuring out ways to get things done no matter what challenges are placed before us. When people criticize policing or ask themselves why Police Departments even exist (seriously?) the answer is right in front of you. I see it play out every day in Arcata by the women and men who serve our great City, and all of you, 24/7/365. We never close. And while you may not like what we have to say, the plan we develop to resolve your situation, booking someone in jail or the citation we wrote you, there are times when we are going to have to agree to disagree.
When a mother recently called APD because her 19 year old daughter was stopped by APD and felt wronged because she was given a verbal warning, no matter what the Sergeant said in terms of everything being done correctly by the Officer it just was not good enough. It was all on BWC but the mother still blamed my Officer. We realize many will blame us for their own faults because accountability and accepting blame for one's mistakes is difficult for some people. If you feel you've been wronged we have a robust complaint reception and investigation process. Please utilize it.
There is no room for law enforcement to get anything wrong. We have to be perfect each and every time out. When LAPD Officer Esmeralda Ponce Ramirez' line of duty death was announced in June 2019, PORAC, the Peace Officer Research Association of California, included a link to the LAPD Officer Memorial page. Through the sea of all LAPD Officers who made the ultimate sacrifice I happened upon the death of LAPD SWAT Officer Randall Simmons who was shot and killed on February 7, 2008 while entering a home where an armed suspect had killed several family members. Take a moment, check the Officer Down Memorial Page, and reflect on the sacrifice made by Officers Ramirez and Simmons, and all law enforcement personnel killed in the line of duty, and the people who they were, in order to serve and protect.
The law enforcement profession finds itself again, at a crossroads. Many who have never served are calling for massive reform. Some, like the Arcata City Council, have enlisted the opinions of law enforcement in this transformational process. Others, unfortunately, most of whom I would imagine have never pinned on a badge, have not. Instead, we are second guessed as laws designed to delay all judgment until all facts are known are ignored, trampled and spat upon.
What happened to Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis was a travesty and rightfully has called into question where our moral, ethical and just compass is. Mr. Brooks in Atlanta was shot after engaging officers in a fight to escape what appeared to be a simple arrest. Instead, he lies dead and the officer fired and arrested within hours. No longer will being placed on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation suffice. Communities demand action now and elected officials are delivering it.
As a profession we have some soul searching to do. We cannot continue to police this way. Criminal justice reforms in California have taken place for many years. We are the most progressive state in utilizing best practices in policing. No one comes close. Many of these measures are intended to dilute the role of the American Police Officer. The strategy is working and if this is what people continue to vote for then that is exactly what they will get. Ignorance is no excuse in creating a society where your individual safety is always at risk. Police Officers are noble people who perform life-saving work every day and restore hope in people's lives when all hope was lost.
So when some advocate for dismantling the police or march on their City Hall to abolish policing (how ludicrous is that?) be careful what you wish for. Educate yourself, get involved in your local government, go on a ride-a-long or, God forbid, join our ranks. If you have all of the answers then we sure could use you. Political and societal pressure has caused so much change in such a short period of time since the senseless death of Mr. Floyd. And while some tools have been taken away, the carotid control hold for example, I have instructed my Officers to utilize any means to survive an attack. Our priority remains to fight crime, hold offenders accountable, restore order and to do the best we can to help people in a region that does not have the capacity we need for the demand.
No matter the budget challenge APD is not going to retreat and we will not stop performing compassionate, humanistic and just policing to keep Arcata a Safe City. We will not back down or back off. We will however, continue to acknowledge our faults, work to right the wrongs of racism and bigotry and get better by engaging with, and listening to, all community members, especially communities of color.
It is common to echo "We will never forget" when honoring a peace officer who dies in the line of duty. Dan Walters was a high school baseball phenom and a catcher for the San Diego Padres before becoming a San Diego Police Officer. Dan was shot and paralyzed on November 12, 2003 while covering another Officer on a stop. Dan died on April 23, 2020 from the injuries he sustained on duty.
Johnny Keene, a retired SDPD Detective and academy classmate of mine in 1986, posted the following poem to Dan's memorial page:
"The Final Inspection"
The policeman stood and faced his God, which must always come to pass. He hoped his shoes were shining, just as brightly as his brass. "Step forward now, policeman. How shall I deal with you? Have you always turned the other cheek? To my church have you been true?" The policeman squared his shoulders and said, "No, Lord, I guess I ain't, because those of us who carry badges can't always be a saint. I've had to work most Sundays, and at times my talk was rough, and sometimes I've been violent, because the streets are awfully tough. But I never took a penny, that wasn't mine to keep.... Though I worked a lot of overtime when the bills got just too steep. And I never passed a cry for help, though at times I shook with fear. And sometimes, God forgive me, I've wept unmanly tears. I know I don't deserve a place among the people here. They never wanted me around except to calm their fear. If you've a place for me here, Lord, It needn't be so grand. I never expected or had too much, but if you don't.....I'll understand. There was silence all around the throne where the saints had often trod. As the policeman waited quietly, for the judgment of his God. "Step forward now, policeman, you've borne your burdens well. Come walk a beat on Heaven's streets, you've done your time in hell."
Police Officers are the difference between right and wrong, just and unjust, good and bad, honor and disgrace. How quickly we have forgotten.