A community issue survey conducted in November of 2020 left some residents with questions of their own. The survey focused on residents’ views on public safety and policing. Conducted by FM3 Research Opinion, Research, & Strategy, an independent research entity, the survey aimed for statistical validation. FM3 Research sought to capture a segment of the population that was representative of the city itself. Questions were also carefully selected to develop patterns that could lead to scientifically based conclusions. The survey results and presentation can be found online at cotaticity.org.
Some residents wanted to know how many people of each race were stopped by police in the last year. They also wanted to know how many young people had completed the survey. Why young people and minorities were skeptical of the police? What types of interactions people of each race had with the police? What was the perceived attitude of the officer, and if residents experienced racism in their interactions with police officers? Some of the answers to these questions are hard to attain due to the nature of a survey format. Specific details behind the survey questions are unattainable without follow-up questions to respondents. Another factor obscuring information is the margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.2 percent. Which can go even higher when questions are targeted at sub-groups. Nevertheless, the FM3 Research maintains a 95 percent confidence level in the conclusions of the survey. Which stated, “there is a distinct minority of residents with negative perceptions or experiences when it comes to general prejudice in Cotati or police conduct. This share of residents though small, has grown since March 2020. These residents are more likely to be younger, lower income, or Latinos.”
When asked in a recent conversation if the survey results revealed any racial profiling by the Cotati police, City Manager Damien O’Bid’s answer was that “The survey did not reveal profiling. What it revealed was more about attitudes on policing. The takeaway was that when you are looking at sub-sets of groups you can’t look at any one answer as a definitive response. We were looking for the big differences. Consistent differences across demographics. Pollsters responded that among younger people, lower income and Latinos there was a slightly negative perspective of police in general and Cotati.” As far as specific statistics on interactions between police and the community the last full year of data is from 2019. The 2020 statistics should be available to the community in March of 2021. O’Bid did provide these statistics from 2019, “Out of 17,000 police contacts in the year, 2,000 were traffic stops consisting of 100 DUI arrests. There were four complaints. Three of which were withdrawn and the other was resolved with officer training.” Statistics that seem to telegraph the city’s intention of furthering transparency and integrity in the police department.
Cotati City police have already made strides in implementing and complying with legislation regarding profiling. California assembly bill 953 was voted into law enacting the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015 (RIPA). The law “would, among other changes, revise the definition of racial profiling to instead refer to racial or identity profiling, and make a conforming change to the prohibition against peace officers engaging in that practice,” legalinof.legislature.ca.gov. This statewide initiative is being implemented in phases starting with larger police departments and cascading down to smaller precincts. The Cotati Police Department has until January 2022 when they are mandated to be in full compliance with the RIPA legislation. O’Bid highlighted the progress Cotati police have made and their commitment to be in full compliance ahead of the January 2022 deadline. “We committed to collecting the RIPA data early. We are currently upgrading software in all the police cruisers as part of our commitment to the community. Right now, we are in the testing phase, best-case scenario we would have everything up and running in the first half of this year,” O’Bid. The data collected on each police contact will be compiled into reports and submitted to the Attorney General’s office. The reports aim to aid in understanding the difference between people’s perceptions and actual outcomes. The idea being that conversations based on data instead of assumptions will elevate conversations around policing.
Officer training is another area of focus to ensure that peace officers follow the intent of the law. The department is surpassing the Police Officer Standards of Training (POST). “Coming out of the town hall workshops last fall we committed to an early implementation of RIPA. We also do a lot more training than is required by POST. California leads the nation in officer training and given those requirements we have been training above and beyond,” States O’Bid. Supplemental training for the department included training on crisis intervention, bias and racial profiling, force option / no force simulator and de-escalation techniques. The police town hall presentation for October 1, 2020 can be found at cotaticityca.iqm2.com. O’Bid concludes, “the bottom line is that the goal of the city council and the police department is to do the best job we can for our community. If there are issues, we want to address those as quickly as possible. We want to be transparent and let people know what is happening in their community.”