Public Safety Committee digs in to workload

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Arcata’s Public Safety Committee last week polished up its draft report to the City Council, and dug into some of its heavier-duty assignments, including the Arcata Police Department’s use of force policies and civilian police oversight.

The draft report tracks the committee’s incremental progress on creating a Community Safety Quick Reference Guide, police restructuring and civilian police review, among other business. The report is scheduled for presentation to the council on Dec. 2.

The committee also looked into deepening ties with Arcata’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program to aid in emergency response. Elements of CERT’s goals may be included in the report to the council.

Police Chief Brian Ahearn provided his “Dashboard Report,” which summarizes recent crime statistics. Nominal crime trends have been strongly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its alterations to everyday life. Ahearn’s year-to-date figures – which include pre-pandemic data – show overall violent crime down 15 percent; property crime down 3 percent; and property crime down across the board save for auto thefts, which are up about 21 percent. “We’ll take whatever reductions we can, for any reason,” Ahearn said.

Emergency response times have increased by an average of 3 seconds, from to 4 minutes, 13 seconds. APD staffing is down 14 percent due to coronavirus-related budget cuts, reducing self-initiated enforcement by officers. 

APD’s use of force policies are under scrutiny, though Ahearn urged caution in making alterations that aren’t consistent with practices adopted by Lexipol, a public safety risk management group that assists local agencies with development of, and in defense of their policies and practices.

While the City Council banned APD from use of carotid holds, Lexipol still supports them, and major deviations could jeopardize APD’s eligibility for assistance by the group and increase liability for the city.

Ahearn encouraged the committee to develop Arcata-appropriate standards, but added, “I think you’re going to have to present a very compelling argument to overturn language that’s been developed by subject matter experts, attorneys and best practitioners that are trying to create policies into agencies throughout the world.”

Ahearn said he and Lt. Todd Dokeiler were nonetheless ready to undertake incorporation of the committee’s changes into APD’s policies. He said 2021 offers an opportunity to better open up APD’s internal culture to the committee and the public.

Committeemembers will examine existing use of force policies, including those described in the state penal code, Lexipol and City of Arcata standards, then return recommendations to the greater committee at its Dec. 16 meeting for rigorous review, revision and syncronization.

A review of police reform initiatives included consideration of the 8 Can’t Wait and Campaign Zero reform initiatives. 

8 Can’t Wait recommends elimination of “broken window policing,” which attempts to stymie development of serious crime via enforcement of lower-level infractions. But Committeemember Melissa Lazon wondered how that could be reconciled with enforcement against petty crime largely favored by Arcata residents, such as public drunkenness, loitering and disorderly conduct, especially on the Plaza.

Ahearn said the council had directed the committee look at the reform initiatives’ details for desirable elements to adopt, rather than embracing them totally. 

“There’s community standards in Arcata that aren’t necessarily community standards in Fortuna, and vice-versa,” Ahearn said. “We can all agree on some fundamental core principles.” 

Read the Public Safety Committee's Annual Report to the City Council, beginning on page 9 of this week's council packet.


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