Arcata Public Safety Committee thrust into forefront

Heavy workload includes APD budget, use of force, bodycams

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Arcata’s Public Safety Committee is being tasked with matters weighty and momentous which in months to come will help define the city’s post-pandemic policing scenario.

The citizen-led advisory body, which meets monthly, is being asked by the City Council to deliver policies on police use of force, use of bodycams, civilian police oversight, the police department’s budget and even the possibility of abolishing or redefining the Arcata Police Department as it presently exists. 

The committee is also to evaluate how the Campaign Zero and #8 to Abolition recommendations might factor into Arcata police reform.

At its June 24 meeting, the committee heard from more than a dozen members of the public advocating for deep police reform. It then consented to broaden its advisory role and act as a civilian police oversight committee, but that was put on hold at the July 22 meeting pending much-needed further discussion.

In figuring out how to manage the daunting workload, including assignments from the City Council and its previous ongoing projects, the committee decided to form two subcommittees – one on APD’s budget, and the other on civilian oversight – and give them two months to do a deep dive into their respective topics. 

“Time is of the essence,” said Police Chief Brian

Ahearn. “The council would really like for the Public Safety Committee to capitalize on the momentum and to take decisive action in terms of recommendations to the council” on budget and civilian police review.

Ahearn said that the budget review will essentially redefine APD once the pandemic passes. When the economy comes back and tax revenues rise, he said, departments which have seen budget cuts will be re-funded. That offers an opportunity to re-allocate the funds in keeping with progressive reform values.

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 “How do you envision investing those dollars back into the police department in terms of other positions than a sworn police officer?” he asked. Alternatives to sworn officers could include social workers, clinician, public service officers or other specialists.

Members Fred Johansen and Jesse Lopez form the reinvestment or budget subcommittee. Vice Chair Lettie Love-Harris is part of the civilian oversight subcommittee.

For civilian oversight, the subcommittee will examine existing committees in other cities for possible adaptation to Arcata’s situation. The committee can then recommend to the City Council some proven choices for viable oversight.

Ahearn recommended consulting the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (nacole.org) for ideas.

In reimagining the police department, the committee will consider recommendations of two leading reform movements: Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) and #8 to Abolition (8toabolition.com).

Via Campaign Zero.

Campaign Zero includes a host of reforms, including community oversight, limits on use of force and bodycams plus other measures.

Via #8 To Abolition.

#8 To Abolition is more transformational, emphasizing police defunding, safe housing and depopulating prisons, among other initiatives.

Meanwhile, the committee as a whole will discuss use of force, bodycams, community engagement plus other more routine business.

The committee is developing a community safety guide with crime prevention and other resources. It’s also creating the safearcata.org website as a public safety resource.

Members also re-elected Melissa Lazon as chair, and elected Lettie Love-Harris as vice chair.

Ahearn stressed the urgency and importance of the committee’s work. He urged members not to worry about money per se, but to focus on where the council should direct funds with a “strategic framework” to reimagine policing and make serious change. 

“The council is really leaning on all of you,” he said. “Clearly we’re making mistakes. That has to stop. All of you are being looked at here in Arcata as people who can help us change.”

Despite the workload, Lazon welcomed the challenge and the opportunity to make profound change in Arcata. “All of this stuff is exactly why we started the committee in the first place,” she said.

Contact the Public Safety Committee at [email protected].

 







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