July 6, 2020
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City condemns racism

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
June 26, 2020

At the June 23 city council meeting, Rohnert Park City Council passed resolution 2020-057 by a vote of 4-0-1. Council member Susan Adams was absent, recovering from surgery. The adopted resolution was agenda item 6A - listed as “Condemning Racism, Reasserting the city’s commitment to serving the residents of Rohnert Park regardless of race or background and committing to the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative for Review of Police Use of Force Policies.”

Director of Public Safety Tim Mattos presented to the council a staff report. He informed the council “where things stand now,” in relation to the 8 Can’t Wait police reform efforts of Campaign Zero. Highlights included that the department no longer allows chokeholds or strangleholds; that they do train and will continue to train de-escalation techniques; and that officers have a duty to not only intervene but also to report when another officer is engaged in use of excessive force.

On use of deadly force recommendations, he said that officers are required to give a warning before shooting “when able to do it;” that they must exhaust all other means before shooting with the only exception being if imminent death or great bodily harm is occurring; and although not an outright ban, officers aren’t allowed to shoot at moving vehicles again unless it’s the only way to stop imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. Finally, any use of force or even a threat of use of force must be documented and reported.

During council discussion, Councilmember Belforte asked if he knew of any procedure to share those reports with the city manager or even council members. Mattos responded there are some privacy concerns and no current standard reporting process in the city or other police departments he was part of; but he is very willing to look at some process to provide greater transparency to both the city council and residents. As to the “Brother’s Keeper” pledge recently signed, City Manager Darrin Jenkins said he anticipated at least a written report made public with results of the review and reform effort.  Belforte reiterated her belief that the council should issue a statement and not just adopt a resolution because the public views a resolution differently. She also restated that she feels the council should go through some sensitivity training. 

Councilmember Pam Stafford said she appreciated the speed of the report from staff, pointing out that putting things together for consideration of the council often doesn’t move as quickly as some would like. Vice Mayor Jake Mackenzie again reviewed the action steps of the “Brother’s Keeper” pledge. He is eager for the next order of business which would be the listening sessions for the community. Jenkins reported they are trying to get a facilitator for these sessions on board, someone with experience in diversity. He’s in that process now. He envisions at least four public sessions, two in-person and two virtual. He also anticipates setting up on the city website as a method for folks to provide input who may not want to participate in those more public sessions. Responding to Belforte, he will investigate the possibility of the facilitator providing the council some diversity training too.

Almost a dozen public comments were received on this item. Generally, they reflected a few themes, such as “Brother’s Keeper” pledge is a good first step but there’s more to be done. Folks are asking again for a civilian oversight board. Although in support of the resolution, they also want a statement made by the city on this issue. Many mentioned a need for sensitivity training for staff and council members. Finally, some stated that more needs to be done then just issuing words. 

This was a marathon council meeting, lasting almost four and one half hours. Much more went on besides this resolution. Such as a proposal for building additional affordable housing in the WillowGlen area (see separate story) and adoption of the 2020-21 budget. However, it is likely that this topic, much like COVID-19 updates, will continue to be part of the council’s agenda for many more meetings to come. This issue is very unlikely to be a one and done item.