By Lyah Fitzpatrick,
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the city Public Health and Safety Joint Subcommittee proposed a nine-item recommendation suggesting an altered policing system. The system will direct non-violent police calls to a “Department of Social Services” and/or “Department of Public Health,” made up of mental health officials, social workers and other counselors, in an attempt to prevent excessive use of force and racial discrimination.
Item Seven received 162 public comments, stretching the meeting to 1 a.m.
137 of the public commenters supported the proposal. Morgan Poindexter and Julea Shaw, UC Davis graduate students and members of Yolo People Power, performed research for the proposal. They both called in support.
“Things that should not be criminalized are being criminalized,” Poindexter said. She compares mental health situations to a revolving door; individuals with poor mental health are incarcerated and don’t receive necessary treatment. Upon returning to the community, these individuals revert to their original behavior.
She holds the same philosophy regarding individuals who abuse substances. “They’re not a bad person, they just need the care and support and literal medical help,” she said.
A major point in the proposal is combating racial discrimination. According to Poindexter, the first of the nine recommendations acknowledges that individuals of color in Davis are much more likely to be arrested or stopped and searched. “It’s just completely unacceptable,” she said.
Shaw says the new department model could “[divert] a lot of [police] calls from an entity that has a lot of force, that has a lot of violence,” therefore avoiding unnecessary conflict, especially related to race.
Poindexter and Shaw presented their findings to organizations like Davis Community Church, Congregation Bet Haverim and the Davis High Activism Club.
Junior Alicia Joo is a member of Activism Club.
“Take a step outside [your personal experience] and think about other people’s positions, and how they might feel unsafe,” Joo said. “Our community in particular is quite nonviolent, and I think it’s super reasonable for us to adopt this model.”
Joo called in support and emailed the council.
“I think it’s great we have high school students calling in because it’s their community too,” Shaw said.
However, there were 22 public comments against the proposal. Generally, the callers were worried about the recent increase in Davis crime. Poindexter recognizes the numbers but believes “none of these proposals would somehow hinder police from […] finding a murder suspect, stopping an armed robbery. […] That’s what police officers are trained to do, that’s what they should do.”
Further, Shaw believes that a new Social Services and/or Public Health department will “reduce the number of people in a desperate situation.” She says public safety is being proactive rather than focusing on unsafe outcomes.
Discussion of the proposal will continue on Dec. 15. To set the proposal in motion, a council member will have to motion a piece or the entire proposal, and a vote will take place.
“Hopefully they’ll take into account the overwhelming amount of support,” Shaw said.
Poindexter agrees. “I think it wouldn’t look good for them if they just did nothing.”
Shaw urges the community to “stay engaged and stay informed.”