As demonstrations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and police reform take place throughout the nation, a subcommittee of the La Cañada Flintridge Public Safety Commission has released a report addressing concerns over the city’s contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
During a telephone meeting on Tuesday, the subcommittee consisting of chair Marilyn Smith and Maureen Siegel-Sprowles advised against terminating the city’s contract with the department after speaking with representatives from La Cañada BLM; Save Our Sheriff; Sheriffs Appreciated, Friendly and Engaged; the department; and the city staff.
“We spent a lot of time on this,” Smith said, “and I think our focus from the beginning was to be as evidence-based as possible, to find facts, to drown out the noise and just go with where the facts take us.”
The full commission unanimously approved the adoption of the report and its recommendations. The 11-page document will be sent to staff members and presented to the City Council, which will determine whether to place it on a future agenda.
The subcommittee was created after commissioners responded to a petition submitted by LCBLM during a June 22 meeting. The petition, which had garnered 461 signatures toward its 1,000-signature goal as of press deadline, demanded the city defund its portion of Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station activity, invest in equitable alternatives and terminate its contract with the Sheriff’s Department.
The City Council on June 30 approved a municipal budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that included $2.78 million for the local law enforcement services from the Sheriff’s Department. LCF is one of 42 cities contracted with the departm ent and is in the second year of a contract that runs through June 30, 2024.
According to the subcommittee report, Smith and Siegel-Sprowles had a teleconference with four representatives of LCBLM on July 23 and received documents outlining numerous concerns regarding what the group referred to as the “behavior, scandals and resulting statistics” involving sheriff’s deputies as well as the department’s mental health training, traffic control and crime investigation.
The subcommittee reported “LCBLM did not articulate an overall goal or outcome for consideration; instead, provided an 18-page research paper a few hours prior to the meeting for the subcommittee to review.”
“The spokesman of the group did mention they were looking to the commission to perhaps have ideas in terms of how to implement what their policy goals were,” Smith told commissioners on Tuesday. “The one example that he was able to point me to is places in Europe where they have had non-uniformed, non-weapon policing, but we were not given examples of here anywhere in the United States and certainly not locally.”
In an email sent Wednesday, LCBLM representatives, who continue to organize peaceful protests every Sunday at the corner of Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard, stated they were “grateful for the opportunity to work with the Public Safety Commission” but were “greatly disappointed by both their report and recommendations.”
“The LCBLM summary is the shortest in the Public Safety Commission subcommittee’s report, and as an unfortunate result, many of our finer points are either under-explained, misrepresented or entirely omitted. … We do not simply feel as though law enforcement is being unfair. It is a fact that law enforcement in the United States is biased towards protecting white people and brutalizing and over-policing people of color.
“We have committed ourselves to relying exclusively on evidence-based claims to further our movement and support our message, and the failure of the commission to legitimately analyze the proposals we have outlined in our research paper is a disservice to our community. Despite clearly stating our goals in our paper, the committee claimed that we ‘did not articulate an overall goal’ and simply directed people to read our argument on their own. Thus, not only does their report contain unsubstantiated allegations against our leadership, it also dismisses our concerns as they reduced our argument to a single-paragraph summary with seven bullet points.”
POLL ON POLICE PRESENCE
Smith and Siegel-Sprowles noted that the majority of criminal activity in LCF involves property crimes, not violent ones or issues involving homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse and juvenile delinquency.
“Our primary goal was to ascertain, is [defunding the Sheriff’s Department and terminating the contract] realistic?” Siegel-Sprowles said. “Is that something the community favors? In our discussion, they did want us to reimagine how that could occur, but the reality is when you look at our statistics in La Cañada and, honestly even when you look at a lot of stats in other similarly situated communities, the notion of reimagining is substantially changing the nature of how these communities are policed. It is a very small but very vocal minority that is looking to defund, reallocate and reimagine law enforcement.”
The chair and commissioner referenced a Gallup poll released on Aug. 5 that showed 61% of Black Americans want police presence to remain the same and expressed some confidence in being treated well by police. The online study was completed by 36,463 adults age 18 and older. A previous poll released by the same company in July revealed nearly nine in 10 Black Americans said major changes in policing are needed.
Also acknowledged in the subcommittee’s report was that all stakeholders had areas of commonality, including the opposition to “discriminatory behaviors or use of stereotypes, whether applied to police actions against any and all citizens, and in particular persons of color or other identifiable groups. … No one supports those documented acts of corruption, brutality, criminality and discrimination by law enforcement officials.”
Representatives of Sheriffs Appreciated, Friendly and Engaged and Save Our Sheriff voiced their concerns to the subcommittee in a phone meeting on July 31, supporting the department’s community-based intervention programs. They stated that LCBLM is “not reflective of the greater community’s intents” and not willing to discuss alternatives or receive input, the report said.
It added that a SAFE organizer said he reached out to LCBLM to better understand their proposals and alternative plans for public safety but was denied a meeting because he refused to agree in advance to support defunding or terminating the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Department. The organizer said he was attacked personally on social media.
LCBLM denied the claim, stating that its representatives “scoured our email and social media accounts and have found no record of being contacted by a representative for LCF SAFE.”
“Additionally, we have never used our movement or platform to harass or otherwise misrepresent any individuals or organizations, as we have no interest in silencing those who disagree with us, and instead welcome collaboration and communication.”
CONVERSATION WITH CAPTAIN
The third and final phone meeting was with C.V. Sheriff’s Station Capt. Todd Deeds, who said the local station is among the highest-ranked in the department for infrequency of complaints about service and alleged discrimination. He read the petition and met the group but was “disappointed about how the group twisted his statements from this meeting into something he did not say and posted those statements on social media,” the subcommittee reported.
Representatives from LCBLM told the Outlook Valley Sun that Deeds never reached out to them “regarding any false statements” made and that the group “would be more than willing to review any of the data we have published about his career or the department as a whole with him should anything we’ve published prove to be false.”
Its petition and submitted documents also expressed concerns over media reports of cliques and subgroups in the department that glorified aggressive policing from deputies. The Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 4 that the county has paid about $55 million in settlements in cases involving sheriff’s deputies allegedly belonging to such a group. Sheriff Alex Villanueva later announced a zero-tolerance policy on cliques and subgroups, and Deeds said there are none at the local station.
When discussing criminal activity in LCF, the captain told the subcommittee that most crimes are committed by individuals from outside the community who are sometimes involved in “gang-related enterprises or burglary crews.”
According to the report, “Deeds emphasized that racial profiling is not the same as criminal profiling where deputies respond to active calls in which law enforcement has a physical description of a suspect which might include a person’s race. Deputies need to have a valid reason to stop someone and are trained not to do so without one.”
The topic of body cameras was also discussed during the meeting, and Deeds notified the commissioners that the department will be deploying the devices in October. However, only a handful of sheriff’s stations will receive them in October, with the overall rollout expected to be completed within 18 months. The captain did not have a timetable for when the local station would receive cameras.
The role of the community services officer, an unarmed officer with limited enforcement duties who assists in lower-priority calls, was also part of the discussion. The local station does have a CSO, but “Deeds does not see other avenues that unarmed officers could supplant uninformed, armed deputies for service calls due to potential risks,” according to the report. However, he said he is in favor of using multidisciplinary teams that include social workers, mental health professionals, drug counselors and homeless advocates in appropriate incidents.
OTHER GROUPS REMAIN ACTIVE
Regarding police tactics, Smith and Siegel-Sprowles mentioned the California Contract Cities Association’s formation of a Public Safety Working Group that will “address concerns about use-of-force policies by law enforcement officers and other public safety issues.” The group will collaborate with Villanueva, the county Board of Supervisors and county staff members.
Similarly, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn introduced a motion in June urging law enforcement officials in the county to review their use-of-force policies and include the policies presented by Campaign ZERO, an organization that encourages policymakers to focus on data-driven solutions with the strongest evidence of effectiveness at reducing police violence. The board also approved an initiative last month that would put a measure on the ballot calling to shift unrestricted general funds toward community services and programs.
The local subcommittee’s report also emphasized the role of the Public Safety Commission and its limitations in addressing these issues.
“First, the commission is not a legislative policy. We act solely in an advisory capacity to the City Council on issues of policy. We may issue a report and make recommendations but, in the end, all policy, budgetary and legislative actions from our city remain in the sole purview of the City Council.”
The subcommittee recommended that the commission emphasize community policing partnerships and expansion of community service officers and proposed exploring the possibility of creating an ongoing subcommittee that would address concerns raised in this report.
Smith and Siegel-Sprowles also advised LCBLM to address its thoughts and concerns to county supervisors and the Public Safety Working Group.
Despite its disappointment, LCBLM indicated it is optimistic and hopes to continue working with the local government.
“As a community of affluence and power, it is our responsibility to use our influence and resources to make a positive difference for those who have less than we do,” the group said. “To ignore the [the Sheriff’s Department’s] hand in the violent brutalization of racial minorities in L.A. should be unthinkable. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by working together to create a new public safety system that can hold everyone to a fair account under due process.
“Despite the shortcomings of this report, we still wish to work on this with the La Cañada Flintridge City Council, and we are confident in our community and our movement and are hopeful that we will see change.”