October budget review and reallocation of funds will be last hurdle in launching program

Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke provided an update at the most recent Healdsburg City Council meeting on the police department’s efforts to reallocate funds in order to start a community equity team that includes a sworn officer and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

While there are still a few hoops to jump through in order to launch the program, Burke said the department has made progress in developing operational procedures with a local LCSW volunteer, finalizing a job description for the position with human resources, and working with academia to receive input. Evaluation of the city’s budget and funding for the program in mid-October will be the last hurdle for the pilot program.

Burke first introduced the concept of a community equity team back in June when he brought a presentation on the topic to a Healdsburg City Council meeting.

The goal of the program is to improve community outreach, specifically within marginalized communities and to create a police culture centered around equity and fairness. The plain clothes officer and the LCSW would be sent out in the community together, and would become experts on equity and unconscious bias, and would provide training to staff and city staff.

The transition to the program, which Burke has said would bring a change in the basic, fundamental mindset of the job, would start with a two-year pilot period and would be made possible by leaving the two vacant police officer positions empty in order to free up funds for the new position.

Burke envisions a team that has the appropriate expertise to respond to calls on homelessness, mental health and other calls where a LCSW response would be a more effective and equitable approach. 

The program would also work to employ community equity as a core value at the police department where they would blend established police procedures with concepts of social equity and partner with academia to establish standards and measures.

“The idea behind this was to enhance community confidence in the police department with all different segments of the community,” Burke said during his presentation at the council meeting. “Recent events have taught us that there may not be as much confidence in certain segments of the community and so the idea behind this proposal is take a sort of radical approach to how we do things at the Healdsburg Police Department with the idea being to build and enhance confidence in the department so people see the police department as being equally as committed to equity as we know the community and the city council are.”

Introducing the concept to staff, evaluation of workload potential

Burke said the first steps in the process of seeing the program to its fruition are evaluating the workload potential, developing operational procedures and working with a local LCSW volunteer who reached out to the police department after the initial presentation.

“Here is where we are at this point, we’ve introduced the concept to our staff and have talked significantly with supervisors and asked them to look at the types of calls we respond to at the police department … and the calls that might lead to equity outcomes, so we are evaluating what the workload might look like for this team once they get started,” Burke said.

He said the department has also been consulting with the volunteer LCSW who wanted to provide input and help build the program.

“I had a gentleman reach out to me who is a LCSW and he's been a volunteer to the police department. He’s been an extraordinary benefit and help to me. He’s helping us build this program from the ground up,” he said.

The police department is working on finalizing the final draft with the human resources department and with the volunteer and they are also looking at what kind of salary the position would have. Burke said it is an important step and they are close to getting it done.

According to Burke, the draft job description created by the volunteer, Steven, is as follows, “Ability to challenge conventional wisdom and be fully prepared to support the vision and goals of policies designed to improve equity in the delivery of police services.”

Academic input

The department is also working with the Sonoma State University (SSU) criminal justice and criminology department to get input on the pilot program and to be able to measure its effectiveness during the trial run once it’s launched.

Healdsburg Police Department Lt. Matt Jenkins has been assigned to work specifically with SSU in relation to the community equity team. Jenkins is a graduate of the SSU department.

Waiting for the budget

The last and biggest step in getting the community equity team off the ground will be making sure the reallocated funds from the two vacant police officer positions will be adequate and fiscally solvent for the establishment of the program.

At the June city council meeting Burke said of the community equity proposal, “It is not normal for a police chief to come in and say, ‘Cut away these two positions and do something different with them,’ but that is exactly what I am proposing.”

Burke said he believes he has support for the program from the department’s staff, however, the ability to continue pursuing the proposal requires the confirmation that there are sufficient funds to do so.

“We’re waiting for that mid-October budget review like a lot of other programs in the city to determine the funding piece of it because we are talking about taking two funded police officer positions and using the money from those positions to have a police officer assigned to nontraditional law enforcement duties and to hire a social worker. The ability to continue with this program requires that I know with certainty that we do indeed have those positions to actually work with,” Burke said.

The discussion of the community equity team will continue after the city’s October budget review session.

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