Tensions between residents and police have been building up for some time. Memorial Day Weekend 2020 is when a movement started. A movement based around Black Lives Matter, holding police accountable and anti-racism. Wednesday night’s city council meeting had all of these elements in the nearly two and a half-hour session.
It was highlighted by Cotati Police Chief Michael Parish and members from COAR (Cotati Organize Against Racism). Parish talked to the community about his police force while COAR and the city council absorbed the information, offered suggestions and asked questions at the end.
The meeting started off with an open session for community members to express their opinions to the council. Marjorie Crump Shears started out the night with a tribute to Civil Rights icon John Lewis and said we all should take something from Lewis and the legacy he leaves behind, while Adrienne Lauby talked about how much people of color have influenced her life.
Another member, Dustin DeMatteo, talked about his project where he takes impoverished youth and those most affected by police brutality out to a farm in San Francisco. This project is in conjunction with the sheriff’s office, so this is a time where quality conversation happens between these members and the police. DeMatteo said sometimes this leads to job opportunities or just a better understanding from the two parties involved.
After that, Chief Parish walked everyone through a thorough power point presentation about a his police force. Parish highlighted how Cotati was the first police force in Sonoma County to implement body cameras and how they have two officers on duty all the time. He also brought up how officers are evaluated annually and if there’s any sign of misconduct they will be terminated.
Parish also gave a list of community events to help the relationship between the cops and citizens of Cotati. Some of these are Beats/Areas of responsibility, Thief Cards, Coffee with a Cop, HOA Meetings, Bar Meetings, Thomas Page Academy, Social Media and National Night Out.
Parish then went into the ways the police department keeps residents safe. He talked about two officers receiving the MAAD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving Award) in 2019, area patrols, shared dispatch, domestic violence, mental health crisis and downtown bar crowds. All of these areas focus on de-escalation and not escalation to hopefully avoid deadly consequences.
Parish was very honest with the community about the de-escalation tactics he was trying to instill in his officers.
Maybe the most important part of the presentation was the use of force policies. This has been the main part of the recent protests. Parish noted that chokeholds are not used by Cotati PD, there’s required de-escalation, duty to intervene, comprehensive reporting and not shooting at moving vehicles. Again, these aspects all have to do with community policing and not trying to escalate.
The final part of his presentation was about a couple of laws which were recently passed. The Racial and Identity Profiling Act is an annual report of all stop and arrest information. The act requires reporting reason for the stop, time/day and outcomes and requires the officer to record extensive information such as perceived race, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc.
Next was the Peace Officers Use of Deadly Force (AB 392) which makes lethal force only justifiable when necessary to defend human life and emphasizes de-escalation and alternatives to deadly force.
After Parish’s presentation, several members of COAR spoke up about their recently conducted survey. Community members can access the whole survey on the city council’s website along with the Cotati Crime stats, but the survey did yield predictable results for the most part.
According to the survey, 78.0 percent of white residents haven’t experienced racism in Cotati while 53.3 percent of people of color have, compared to just 22 percent of white residents. Also, 95 percent of white residents answered no when asked if they’ve received racial bias compared to 77.8 percent of people of color, finally 91.5 percent of white residents said they feel safe in Cotati compared to just 76.7 percent of people of color.
COAR then shared some powerful stories of racial bias and discrimination, both by the police force and residents against people of color. These stories would be an eye-opener for some who may be closed-minded and don’t see racism as being that big of a deal. It was enough to get the council to proclaim again that black lives matter and there are issues that still need to be addressed, both in policing and within the community.
Wednesday night showed what can happen when both parties are respectful of each other. Listening and learning is a much needed lesson for most of the country right now, so it’s good to see the police chief willing to meet with residents and hear their stories. Mayor Wendy Skillman announced there might be another special meeting, so community members should be on the lookout for that announcement.