The city council held their first regular meeting of May again online. They are not yet meeting in person at city hall. The meeting was broadcast on Cable Channel 26 starting at 5 p.m. The meeting had a few routine items but was dominated by a discussion regarding Police/Community Relations and Accountability. That topic consumed two and one-half hours of the open session that ran about three hours before they recessed to closed session.
By way of background, this topic is not new. Last year after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the numerous Black Lives Matter protests throughout the nation, including Rohnert Park, the council discussed this topic. My June 19 article “RP City Council Special Meeting” covered that discussion. It included “Despite having signed the “My Brother’s Keeper’s Pledge” with other Sonoma County cities and law enforcement officials on Wednesday June 10, during the protest event, many voices still thought the Rohnert Park City Council was silent about discrimination and inequality in their city.” They held listening sessions and had some sensitivity training; yet the new city council wanted to do more. On January 26, 2021, the incoming council selected this topic as one of their ten strategic priorities for 2021.
Tonight’s discussion was a first step towards defining that goal. It was designed to provide City Manager Darren Jenkins and Director of Public Safety Tim Mattos what the council saw as being the next steps. After a short introduction by Jenkins, Mattos provided an overview of what legislation was recently passed concerning this issue. He followed with what bills are pending addressing this topic. He said the departments policies and standards could be found on the city’s website: www.rpcity.org/city_hall/departments/public_safety/police_transparency.
Jenkins followed up with data broken down by race and ethnicity as well as by those living in Rohnert Park and those working or visiting the city. The data related to use of force incidents as well as traffic citations or fix-it tickets. He noted with over 38-thousand officer/citizen contacts, 99.7 percent did not involve any use of force.
Then the various council members shared their thoughts and comments about what they considered should be the next steps. The discussion was wide ranging and not all suggestions obtained consensus. For example, Vice Mayor Jackie Elward made a passionate plea that some type of Police Oversite Committee should be a next step, or at least a committee to look at the various models of citizen oversight of police departments to make a recommendation to the council. But Mayor Gerard Giudice said “I’m not ready” to take that step yet. He was supported by other council members, so Elward’s suggestion will wait another day.
Jenkins then summarized his notes from what he heard the various council members’ remarks to get some type of consensus for next steps. Not all at once, but to be developed by staff based on that input, the items to be brought back to council for further discussion and possible action are as follows. Some type of audit. Staff will bring back what the audit should look like and the frequency of doing it. Quarterly reports to update the council on policy changes, department efforts and statistics. Recommendations for some type of advisory board, perhaps like the homeless roundtable; some type of community engagement on this issue; and potential trainings for the council and department on topics such as implicit bias, sensitivity and/or diversity concerning race, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
All the council said the efforts to screen out potential bad officers during the recruiting process was important; but Council member Susan Hollingsworth-Adams also requested Chief Mattos to come back with a report on what the department is doing for existing hires. Most also supported the concept of focusing on Rohnert Park issues while still acknowledging the general problem of police accountability and transparency elsewhere. They think Mattos is doing a good job and the city is moving in the right direction but said more needs to be done. The goal is for the city to be a safe place where both police officers and community members can get home safely each night,
In other council news, they passed a resolution “Declaring a Water Shortage Emergency.” This allows the city to Implement Phase 1 of the City’s Urban Water Shortage Contingency Plan. Through education and prohibition of certain activities they hope to reduce water consumption by 20 percent during this drought emergency. Most prohibitions pertain to outdoor water usage. For example, using hoses without shut off nozzles to wash vehicles and irrigation systems for lawn watering. Giudice also opened the meeting with a Mayor’s Recognition honoring Emily Ann Miller and Yeymi Perez for being representatives to the council from Sonoma State University for their service and efforts.