Pleasanton residents asked the city for more changes to the Pleasanton Police Department's use-of-force policies, to establish a mental health response program, and to eliminate both school resource officers (SROs) and the 'D.A.R.E.' anti-drug program from local campuses at a special meeting of the City Council and PPD on Thursday night.
The five-hour online meeting included a lengthy review of the police department's budget, use-of-force policies and related staff recommendations, and more than two hours of community input. Officials also used time that evening to identify areas for improvement.
It was the second community conversation on policing reform since last month, when city officials heard public comment at two meetings -- one of them a July 21 event dedicated entirely to the issue. The council asked staff at the time to review PPD's "key existing department use of force policies," as well as their budget, calls for service and mental health response, among other facets.
Near the end of the meeting on Thursday, Councilmember Julie Testa called the discussion that night "a really good beginning" but said she was "frustrated" by the absence of outside consultation to guide the department's policy revision process. She said the council "will have a missed opportunity if we don't go another step and look at the other policies around use-of-force."
"Looking at police policy is something we want a trained perspective for, but there are times when every organization needs an outside perspective and that shouldn't be a threat, and that's what I was hoping to see from this," Testa said. "I do hope that we look at the value of having an independent police auditor type of oversight so that we do have an outside perspective."
Testa added that "most people have very positive experiences" with the PPD "but there are times when things don't go perfect and where people do have concerns, and then they should have an independent place to turn."
Some attendees criticized the suggested amendments to PPD's use-of-force policies as lacking substantial change.
"What has just been presented is a validation of those who claim that 8 Can't Wait is controversial," John Bauer said, referring to the campaign to reform use-of-force policies in police departments across the country. "Their argument is 'been there, done that' -- and that's what has been presented tonight. No major changes, only a few words added, deleted."
During an earlier presentation, Police Chief David Swing said the department did not recommend changes to some of its policies like shooting at moving vehicles because "not all situations allow time for a warning." There were no recommendations to change the department's use-of-force continuum either.
"It's not possible for us to say what shall be done in all situations because it's the nature of the dynamic (at the time)," Swing said.
A policy that requires a specific order of escalation of events "is not really aligned with the dynamic nature of police work" and takes away officers' ability to exercise their professional judgment, Swing added.
However, the department suggested adding language to its de-escalation training and practice policy "requiring officers consider and utilize tactics and de-escalation techniques when feasible and when doing so will not reasonably compromise the safety of the officers of the community." They also lobbied for increased de-escalation training among the police force.
PPD also recommended updating their use-of-force policy with language about exhausting all alternatives before using force that "would require officers consider actions that may decrease the need for using force when circumstances permit," as well as "encourages officers to utilize reasonably available alternative tactics which may persuade an individual to voluntarily comply or mitigate the need to use force."
Proposals from the council and audience members for specialized mental health services and response programs prompted discussion about the city's financial status and to consider the cost and need for certain PPD programs and services including SROs and D.A.R.E.
The department's $30.6 million budget this year is largely earmarked for operations and investigations, with each division receiving $13.7 and $6.7 million, respectively. Support services and administrative overhead also received $3.1 and $3.6 million each, followed by $2.8 for the traffic unit and $380,895 for animal services.
With many residents calling on city leaders to develop a response program for mental health crisis calls, Vice Mayor Kathy Narum asked if the current PPD budget had any money for outside mental health services. City Manager Nelson Fialho said the budget is already allocated for this year but there could be other sources.
"I think the question that you're getting at, possibly, is are there revenue sources for a program," Fialho said. "The answer to that, pre-COVID, would've been, 'Absolutely, let's get down to business and implement this as quickly as possible.'
"Post-COVID is 'no'. Our revenues have decreased," Fialho continued. "Is there capacity within the budget to accommodate a program? The answer is yes, we can find the resources, but it will require some policy decisions on the part of the council in terms of the trade-offs throughout the entire city budget. I don't think it's monumental, it's not impossible to do. I think it's quite possible, actually -- but we're going to have to have that discussion publicly."
Fialho added that it also "depends on the scope of the program," noting that a program with mental health specialists available "as the bookends of activity" during identified peak periods for crisis service calls would be "more achievable" than a full-time staffed around-the-clock model.
What that program could look like is still undecided but several types were reviewed as possible blueprints including one program in Eugene, OR, named CAHOOTS that has drawn recent national interest for its long-time success. A similar pilot program through Alameda County is currently underway in Oakland, Hayward and Fremont, and is being evaluated for its efficacy and possible countywide implementation.
Call types in the CAHOOTS response model include "arguments, welfare checks, suicidal ideation, public intoxication, non-criminal juvenile matters, and civil standby." Staff said one consideration for a program like CAHOOTS that's still undetermined is "who would respond to the community needs based on legal authority, time of day, and safety of those responding."
Councilmember Jerry Pentin expressed his support for another alternate response model called PERT (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team), which pairs clinicians with police officers to respond to behavioral health crisis calls and is currently being piloted in different parts of Santa Clara County. With the PERT model, the clinician and officer arrive in an unmarked vehicle and generally not in uniform, though the officer may have "the full complement of safety equipment on his/her person if needed."
The council also considered other model programs such as uniformed officers in marked police vehicles and a clinician in the passenger seat responding to mental health calls.
Callers on Thursday, particularly young people, supported the alternate response models. Many of the 44 speakers that night also advocated eliminating the D.A.R.E. program and getting rid of SROs, which many current and former students said did little good. In the case of SROs -- which are now commonplace on many American campuses to prevent school shootings, according to Swing -- some students said their presence actually made them feel unsafe.
"We are students, not criminals, and police officers have no place in an environment meant to foster learning," said high school student Anica Pohray. "Please remove school resource officers from our schools; they don't make us feel safe, they scare us."
Yash Deshmukh also said he has "never felt any safer at school because an SRO was there."
Deshmukh also criticized the D.A.R.E. program as "ineffective" and said, "Anecdotally, I can tell you it's very ineffective."
D.A.R.E. also drew disapproval from Foothill alum Megan Chung, who said the program's $291,295 budget could be better spent. "What I believe that has been continuously ignored is the fact that D.A.R.E. has been proven to be ineffective ... Fact is that D.A.R.E. is ineffective, yet we spend nearly $300,000 on it yearly when this money could be go towards helping homelessness or mental health."
Testa, Narum and Councilmember Karla Brown also questioned D.A.R.E.'s overall effectiveness but did not call for its cancellation.
Brown said she'd heard "that D.A.R.E. is a good program but ... it really isn't the long-term effect we all hoped for," while Testa shared information from an American Journal of Public Health study that supported Chung's statement.
"When my kids went through PUSD, they all went through D.A.R.E ... but I often wondered why. Almost all of it seemed redundant given the health courses taught in school," Testa said.
Recalling that "it scored very low on having value" in a previous survey of residents, Narum proposed taking another look at the program. "It was not deemed important to the great majority of citizens, unlike public safety and parks and many of the other things that we do," Narum said. "I think this is probably the time to evaluate that program."
The City Council and PPD will host another virtual meeting about policing reform, alternate response models and other related topics at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17.