Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The Arcata City Council this week could set in motion a rare event in Arcata history – creation of a cabinet-level committee to advise the City Council.
While the city boasts multiple citizen-led advisory committees, this one – focused on public safety and law enforcement – has the potential to tangibly affect daily life in Arcata, and for the better.
Triggering the grassroots push for a Public Safety Committee was an attack on a child as she walked to school last September. Citizens – some newly energized to community activism by the recent national election outcome – have sought to fuse the fragmented efforts of others all over town into a coordinated effort to enhance public safety.
A stepping stone on the way to a permanent committee is creation of an interim Public Safety Task Force. This body, composed of community stakeholders from all over town, would “enhance public safety in the community,” according to a staff report, and advise the council on creation of a permanent committee.
The staff recommendation is that the task force include nine to 11 members and last one year, with representation by residents from various parts of town, plus businesspeople, Humboldt State students, local school representatives and members of community organizations.
Police Chief Tom Chapman would serve as staff liaison. Financial impact is described in the staff report as minimal, estimated at $1,350 in overtime and administrative support for the task force’s duration.
The city is further catalyzing citizen awareness with purchase of a $6,340 online crime mapping program. Citizen RIMS displays crime data, recent arrests, crime charts and daily bulletins which include information on calls for service.
The real-time online map, already used in Fortuna and other communities, enhances awareness of neighborhood conditions and could encourage better reporting of crimes. Police complain that many crimes go unreported, skewing allocation of resources.
If purchased and implemented, Citizen RIMS would offer a feast for data junkies, with a neighborhood twist. Among its features, as listed on the Sun Ridge Systems website, are live incident mapping, local incident history, crime mapping, arrests, crime charts, stolen vehicles, most wanted, missing persons alerts, warrants and more.
Alleged racial incidents
Police Chief Chapman this week confirmed a racial attack on a Humboldt State student which took place in September.
A young African-American man had been showered with racial epithets, then attacked, suffering a broken jaw. Police Chief Chapman said Arcata Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
This week’s council Consent Calendar includes a civil complaint of the type a public safety group might discuss. It’s a referral to the city’s municipal insurer, but not the usual claim for pothole damage or tripping on a cracked sidewalk.
Filed by Eureka attorney Peter Martin, the claim alleges deliberate racial discrimination by the Arcata Police Department against Cedric Byron King II, an African American.
The claim describes a situation leading up to a May 5 child custody exchange near the police department in the parking lot east of City Hall. Such exchanges, often tense and confrontational, are commonly located where police can stand by and offer a calming presence.
According to the claim, the trouble began the day before, when King called Arcata Police about problems he was having arranging the exchange with the child’s mother, described as a Caucasian female.
At that time, Officer Luke Scown allegedly asked King, “Why are you being so hard on us?”
The next day, May 6, states the complaint, King had trouble getting the mother to answer his calls to arrange the return of his son, and had to make repeated calls before she responded.
On King’s arrival that day for the child handoff, he was immediately arrested by Arcata Police officers for allegedly violating a restraining order by excessively calling the mother.
States Martin’s claim, “Officers Scown, Falkenstein and Christensen had no legitimate basis to arrest Claimant on or about May 6, 2016, and instead did so based on racial animus against Claimant and motivated by the intent to racially discriminate against him, to Claimant’s detriment and to the benefit of Ms. Russell, a Caucasian woman of the same race as Officers Scown, Falkenstein and Christensen.”
King was held one and a half hours and his car was impounded, according to the claim. Unable to pay release fees, King couldn’t use the car or get at his possessions inside, including a child safety seat.
Listed as injuries are lost wages, impoundment fees, bail fees and costs, reputation damage, embarrassment, annoyance, emotional distress and more.
Community Pride & Peace steps up
The downtown citizen group Community Pride & Peace is ratcheting up its efforts to reset the public safety climate in Arcata. On Jan. 22, it will hold a community-wide meeting at the D Street Neighborhood Center, 1301 D St. in Arcata.
Among the items discussed will be the new public safety task force and possible committee.
The group, recently designated a nonprofit organization, will also attempt to enlist support for its five “solutions teams,” which specialize in media and outreach, safety and support, human services, environment and events.