Public Safety Task Force confronts daunting mission in second meeting

A citizen addresses the Public Safety Task Force. KLH | Union

Kevin L Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – The enormity of the Public Safety Task Force’s mission became even clearer at 8 p.m. last Wednesday night. That was when its second meeting was scheduled to end, but the task force wasn’t even halfway through the evening’s agenda.

The task force is charged with evaluating Arcata’s crime situation, forging community partnerships to deal with it and ultimately, restoring a sense of personal safety to the streets and neighborhoods.

But the time-consuming devil is in the details, and there are a lot of them.

The Council Chamber gallery was full at the meeting’s start, with students there to support Arcata’s possible Sanctuary City status, something the City Council is set to consider.

During oral communication, several speakers asked the task force to endorse Sanctuary City status for Arcata on grounds that it is key to public safety. Former City Councilmember Dave Meserve said the Trump Administration’s immigration policies are “an assault on the feeling of safety of immigrants.” He offered a detailed draft of a Sanctuary Cities ordinance based on one from Ithaca, New York.

Speaker Linda Pelletier said Sanctuary Cities are safer, because immigrants needn’t fear reporting crime to local police, who won’t arrest them for lack of citizenship.

Attorney Peter Martin called President Trump’s rhetoric racist, and – using one of the president’s favorite terms – “a disgrace.” “All people of conscience should stand up and fight it,” Martin said.

The task force agreed to consider scheduling Sanctuary Cities for consideration during the segment designated for identifying future agenda items later in the meeting.

After closing the oral communications segment and moving on to other business, Martin interrupted to ask whether the task force would be further deliberating on the matter that night. Told no, he, Meserve and all of the students filed out of the chamber, leaving but one member of the public and few reporters on hand.

Council Chamber all but emptied of attendees after the task force received comment on Sanctuary Cities. KLH | Union

The task force and other public bodies can’t legally deliberate on matters which haven’t been agendized and legally noticed to the public.

Member and Arcata House Partnership (AHP) Executive Director Darlene Spoor, charged with developing a list of community resources for the homeless, said she had one that was several pages long. But she didn’t bring it, instead suggesting that for the time being, individuals in need be referred to AHP’s Annex, located at 501 Ninth St. across from the transit center. There, Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and soon five days per week, one-stop referrals to available resources will be offered. “When you see someone on the street, that’s where you send them,” Spoor said.

A subcommittee working on a community resources pamphlet is developing a list of key phone numbers for citizens to use when reporting crime, plus information on how to do so, when to use 911 rather than the Arcata Police business phone, and other useful tips. A concise, card-sized version will also be available.

Member Josh Neff produced a lengthy list of events sponsored by Arcata Main Street (AMS), on which he serves as a boardmember, which present opportunities for the task force to conduct outreach. AMS also has a list of contacts for the businesses within its downtown jurisdiction which could prove useful.

Member Brian Razdin, charged with reviewing APD’s website, suggested that individual police officers’ photos and contact information be displayed, to put a human face on the police force. Police Chief Tom Chapman, the committee’s staff liaison, said he wasn’t sure that would be legal, but would check. “It’s a human factor,” Razdin said.

Vice Chair Melissa Lazon updated the task force on the status of the Westwood Village Community Pathway Project. That project is both practical and symbolic, representing citizen response to the assault on a child by a mentally ill man last year. An illuminated sculpture there will light the path and improve both the trail’s safety and appearance.

During a site visit by city engineers, Lazon said the original location was deemed impractical, so it will be slightly relocated. A meeting with a solar power vendor is planned, and other adjustments will be made.

The pathway project will serve as a proof-of-concept for another, more ambitious one proposed by members of the task force. That will involve possible creation of a safety corridor for Humboldt State University students linking campus and town. The route would be well-lit and include surveillance cameras in order to record any incidents which may occur.

Perhaps the task force’s most daunting challenge is an assessment of safety issues and priorities for Arcata’s many neighborhoods. How it will go about that is unclear. An online survey was suggested, as was soliciting testimony from the public.

“I think we need to do both,” said member and Humboldt State rep Dr. Corliss Bennett-McBride.

In setting priorities, the task force tried to decide whether to emphasize geographical locations, or issues affecting the town.

Member Maureen McGarry noted that the task force’s term of existence is only one year and 12 meetings, and it only had 10 remaining. She said neighborhood residents could do the basic research and report to the group.

“I just don’t see us getting to it all,” McGarry said.

Member Josh Neff said deterioration of public behavior standards is a core problem. He suggested that members extract public sentiment from their respective areas and report back.

Chapman suggested that the Valley West area be given some attention, as it has come to suffer from many of the issues afflicting downtown – aggressive panhandling, inappropriate behavior, illegal camping and more.

Spoor said Valley West has perhaps 150 homeless individuals, a figure that may be refined during this week’s homeless Point In Time census.

Bennett-McBride said discrimination against students, who comprise half the town’s population, is a pressing concern.

A subcommittee was formed to identify neighborhoods and issues in need of attention.

As to whether the task force should take up the Sanctuary Cities matter, member Stephanie McCaleb said that it could prove an overwhelming distraction to the group’s central crimefighting mission.

Spoor said homelessness was at the root of many other public safety issues, and should have priority.

“We need to get focus, or we’ll never get anything done,” said member Brooke Epperly.

Chapman said that the task force’s involvement with the issue could be mooted this month, if the City Council considers the matter. That could render any deliberations by the task force irrelevant.

Regarding microaggressions – the everyday intimidations and insults to the dignity of students of color, which along with outright assaults, keep them from coming into town – the task force will receive a one-and-a-half hour presentation by some Humboldt State personnel who are well-versed in the problem.  



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