body cam footage protest

Image from a police body cam during a June 3 protest, in which police blocked traffic to aid protesters. 

Two special public Zoom meetings on the issues of police use of force and police funding are scheduled for Tuesday, June 23, and Tuesday, June 30.

The first half of the Sebastopol City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 16, was devoted to a discussion of a special public meeting to discuss police policies and procedures in light of the current demonstrations surrounding the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a policeman in Minneapolis.

The action began with a request by Councilmember Michael Carnacchi to move a budget item off the consent agenda because it involved a $100,000 expenditure for police services, which in light of demands to “defund the police” was suddenly a topic of contention.

That done, Mayor Patrick Slayter and Vice Mayor Una Glass gave extensive introductions before unveiling their proposal for a public meeting on the topic of police use of force.  

Slayter began by saying, “We were trying to figure out how we could facilitate a community discussion, and how we would want to proceed with evaluating how police services are delivered in Sebastopol, and the overriding thing that we keep coming back to is that the police services need to reflect the values of the residents of the citizens of Sebastopol,” he said.

After copping to her own white privilege and giving a shout out to protestors — some of whom were present virtually for the meeting — Glass said she took the topic of police use of force extremely seriously because ultimately it was a life or death issue — something rare in local politics.

She then outlined some of the questions she hoped the meeting would answer.

“Should we be reviewing police policies and procedures in light of Sebastopol community values and law enforcement best practices?” she asked. “Should we have an internal police audit that audits our police activities and expenditures and compliance with existing policies? Should we review internal issues that have led to disciplinary actions and the relationship between management and our police staff. Should we engage in a detailed audit to determine how funds are spent? … How are we spending our law enforcement time? Should we review the criteria for recruiting a new police chief.” (Greg Devore is currently the acting chief of police.) “Should we review the criteria we're using for recruiting our officers and what our recruitment materials say and what do they look like? What kind of training is our police department getting? Do we need different training? And last, do we need to discuss whether the city should have either a Citizens Advisory Commission, or a citizens Review Commission? These are the kind of things that can be on the table.”

Councilmember Sarah Gurney chimed in with her own list of questions.

“I'd like to hear a lot from the police chief about our use of force for crowd management practices and what they think of as community policing. What kind of bias awareness training, do they have? Do they have training in de-escalation and restorative justice? Do they do outreach? Is there some citizen complaint process and how transparent is that?” she asked.

Gurney suggested that the complexity of the issue probably called for two meetings, to which everyone readily agreed.

Glass and Slayter said they’d identified a potential facilitator for the event, Jerry Threet — a Sebastopol-based attorney and former head of IOLERO, a county watchdog organization that is supposed to provide community oversight over the sheriff’s office.

During their discussions, all of the councilmembers mentioned that they’d been deluged by emails this week on the question of police use of force.

Slayter said the great majority of email messages he’d received titled “Defund the Police” are really about “reapportioning funds and coming up with a different way to deliver the services that are more appropriate” though he did allow that “the most staunch voices, who are saying to ‘Defund the police,’ actually mean eliminate all law enforcement, and I suppose, ban all laws, which seems really strange to me and not really much of a way to run a society.”

Ultimately, the council unanimously approved setting up two special public Zoom meetings on the issue of police use-of-force, scheduled for Tuesday, June 23, and Tuesday, June 30.

They also later approved the interim budget, despite its $100,000 increase (in the form of a federal grant) for police services.

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