Council hears APD reforms, renews COVID emergency

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – The City Council last week acted on matters routine, unusual and extraordinary, in keeping with the challenging times. 

Mayor Michael Winkler began with a statement urging citizens to wear masks to reduce coronavirus transmission and allow businesses to safely reopen. Compliance has proven inconsistent, as noted in a public comment complaining about unmasked persons commingling on the Plaza. 

The council continued the state of local emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic. It also renewed ordinances extending restrictions on tenant evictions due to rent nonpayment from the pandemic.

Increases in water and wastewater rates, approved at the last council meeting, gained final approval as part of the consent calendar. The increases have been delayed due to the pandemic, with new water rates not kicking in until Sept. 1, and wastewater rate hikes deferred until Jan. 1, 2021.

The council approved two applications totaling more than $257,000 to the state’s Community Development Block Grant Program for coronavirus-related funding. 

One would pay for one year of the Mobile Intervention and Services Team (MIST) program under the public services to respond to COVID-19 impacts activity. The other would fund the Arcata House Partnership Boyd Road shelter’s emergency water and sewer connections for housing facilities for the homeless.

Police reform

The council also took a monthly report from Police Chief Brian Ahearn on police reforms stemming from the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. 

The department has already been working through reforms recommended by the National Police Foundation, which found its investigation into the killing of Humboldt State student David Josiah Lawson inadequate.

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Ahearn said APD has focused on three areas. 

First is a raft of measures handed down by the council on June 17, including elimination of the carotid control hold from its use of force policy, expanded use of body cams, return to the Department of Defense of military equipment it had been allocated (including 14 rifles), de-escalation training, plus more review and reporting of use of force by officers.

The second area of reform is redefinition of policing in Arcata, with possible inclusion of social services and non-sworn office positions for matters that might be handled without involvement by armed, uniformed officers.

Lastly, in conjunction with the Public Safety Committee (which meets this week, see page 2) the department is to develop a strategic plan framework for implementing civilian police review.

The Public Safety Committee might be charged with acting as a “hub” for information collection, analysis and recommendations for other tasks, as listed in a staff report:

• Reviewing and providing the City Council feedback on APD’s body worn camera and use of force policies;

• Review Campaign Zero and advise the City Council on recommendations for implementation;

• Use community surveys to gauge satisfaction levels with public safety service delivery;

• Develop strategies to gather community sentiment, especially for those who don’t feel comfortable going to the police;

• Determine how to re-invest dollars in the APD budget to include partnerships, social services, juvenile diversion and other programs;

• Develop a plan to re-direct funds or increase funds to have social worker component (police/service personnel) available in Arcata;

• Examine civilian oversight models and make recommendations to the City Council;

• Determine if the PSC can serve as the community hub; a conduit for community participation.

Ahearn said APD continues to pursue the National Police Foundation reforms, including development of internship programs with HSU and the College of the Redwoods. 

A draft final plan was submitted to HSU on June 28 and contains four job descriptions to include:

• Gauging community sentiment of APD performance through the use of a survey instrument;

• Curriculum development and presentation by students to APD employees on their expectations of the Police Department;

• Develop a house party response protocol; and

• An opportunity to work alongside employees in various Police Department units to get insight on what those units are tasked with on a daily basis.

Other completed tasks directed by the City Council is the implementation of an online complaint process so that community members may submit a complaint or suggestions to the APD in a manner that may feel safer for some who would rather not file their complaint at the APD station.

A staff report states that the department has made “significant progress” on writing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for day-to-day operational tasks Patrol Operations, Investigations and Dispatch. This process enhances training, transparency and accountability. Each SOP will also be posted on the department’s website so that community members can have access to specific directions provided to APD staff.

Lastly, after looking at other police departments in California who included on their websites their response to the call for police reforms, City of Arcata Communications Specialist Cati Gallardo wrote a detailed Community Policing summary that describes what the City has and is working on in terms of response to several areas of community concern including racial equity and bias training, body worn cameras, use of force, de-escalation training, behavioral health training and community engagement. This summary has been posted to the APD’s web page and is available for any community member to read and provide feedback on.

Councilmember Paul Pitino wanted to make sure that civilian police review is moving forward, and Ahearn reiterated that it is being pursued as part of the reimagining of the department.

Pitino said he appreciates the Public Safety Committee acting to expand the council’s view of police reform “so we aren’t stuck in our own little viewfinder.”

Councilmember Sofia Pereira also lauded the committee’s involvement. She wondered whether remote internships would be possible. Ahearn said yes, and that the department is looking at different “delivery platforms” for internship activity. He said several positions could be fulfilled via remote access.

“We’re changing as a society and we’re relying so much more now on technology to get work done,” Ahearn said. “This is such an exciting moment for us as an organization... I think it’s definitely doable. We’re excited about this opportunity to really open up Arcata PD to the students and  campus communities both at CR and HSU.”

Winkler also liked the committee’s involvement, and clarified that reductions in APD’s budget were because of reduced tax revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he appreciated APD being able to implement the improvements under the challenging budgetary circumstances.

Public comment on police reform included support for APD’s direction, but urged that it go further with creation of community response groups and diversion of resources into root causes of crime, including housing and social services.

One commenter called the response “lackluster” and self-congratulatory, and said the reforms barely “scratch the surface” of a culture steeped in white supremacy and systemic injustice.

Another commenter called for the local NAACP and Black Humboldt to conduct oversight, but others called for “abolition rather than reform,” and public hearings to get that started. One was skeptical of the widely discussed “8 Can’t Wait” program of police reforms.

Councilmember Brett Watson said he backs looking into alternative forms of public safety response.  



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