CC Policing Report Lacking Key Data, New Council to Tackle Issue in January

The City Council met this week to discuss the findings of the Public Safety Report and recommendations from the City Manager's office in regard to "changes in police standards and budgeting" in Culver City.

But after two nights deliberating ways "to reimagine public safety," Councilmembers concluded that the report was lacking important data to support any recommendations and didn't offer many "budget-reducing" options to the panel. Following seven hours of public hearing on the issue, the Council directed staff to update their data analyses, formulate new budget options and report back to the "new Council" in January.

"I recognize this is a messy, challenging process," said Councilmember Thomas Small. "We can't accept staff recommendations until we receive the complete report from Mr. (Saul) Sarabia."

Sarabia's company, Solidarity Consulting, and Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) served as technical advisors to the city's Public Safety Task Force in support of the study.

In his preliminary report of the "Culver City Review of Public Safety Services: Recommendations to Advance Racial Equity and Social Justice," Sarabia said, "at the time of submission, operational information and data analysis regarding 911 calls, dispatch of police, and aggregate data about traffic citations, arrests and other crucial dimensions of public safety infrastructure were still being completed by police staffing experts."

He maintains that once he receives and analyses the missing data, he would provide more concrete recommendations, "affirmative steps to achieve reallocation of public safety duties, responsibilities and services that achieve the goals sought by residents who mobilized after the killing of George Floyd."

The CPSM report – which suggests decriminalizing low-level misdemeanor thefts, among other reforms -- calls for less than 3% reduction in the Culver City Police Department (CCPD) budget. These cuts would be realized by moving school crossing guards, animal services and parking enforcement to other city departments.

In June, the Council rejected a proposal to cut the police budget by 20% but at subsequent meetings, Councilmembers agreed to establish a task force to review police standards and budget, including a 50% cut in CCPD. But Councilmember Daniel Lee maintained, in an op-ed, that the 50% reduction option was ignored in the review.

Lee noted that there were subsequent meetings between councilmembers and city staff in the police department following the June hearing. "If subsequent arrangements were made in those meetings to discard the 50% reduction option among a subset of councilmembers and/or staff, it is objectionable, inappropriate and counter to our agreed-upon instruction," he said.

Lee also rejected the City Manager and CCPD's proposed changes. "The new programs are inadequate," he said. "Complying with Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) and improving data collection are the absolute bare minimum and are not changes to be lauded. Similarly, while foot patrols may decrease people's level of intimidation when encountering police officers, nothing will change if the way those officers interact does not."

In his report, Sarabia notes that "CCPD sworn personnel make 2 times as much in total pay than other Culver City employees and 4 times as much in 'Other Pay' than other city employees. Almost 30% of the CCPD budget for salaries is spent on 'Other Pay/Cash Compensation,' not base salaries for police officers. CCPD's total budget is 4 times the budget for the City's park, recreation, and community services, 22X the budget for housing protections/rental assistance and homelessness projects and 144X the budget for after-school programs."

Former City Treasurer Crystal Alexander, who has served on the Finance Advisory Committee as an appointed volunteer, is quoted in the report, saying, "If the current [CCPD] expenditure levels continue, 'all city services will eventually be impacted.'"

"A meaningful engagement of the labor representatives from its police force to protect future city services would include exploring reductions in the police budget through retirement incentives or attrition, rather than lay-offs." Sarabia said in his report. "For long term structural change, two barriers that the City Council can begin address to show a good faith effort at taking seriously any racial justice pathways to reallocation of police services, duties, and responsibilities, include a) a process to examine labor costs associated with policing and b) demystifying the state of municipal law and liability that may or may not be relevant to implementing these alternatives."

Before the report presentation, City Manager John Nachbar made it very clear that he took "full responsibility for the content of the report."

During the meeting, a myriad of residents addressed the Council, calling for drastic changes in policing while others expressed their support for the Culver City Police Department.

The Culver City Action Network blasted the task force's report. "It is an insult to the people of Culver City and a profound blow to the credibility of city government," it said in a statement. "Tasked with presenting options including reallocating up to 50% of CCPD budget to alternative public safety approaches, the task force came up with 1.6% in accounting gimmicks with no practical significance."

Protect Culver City, the local political action committee, said in its website "our police department enjoys 78% approval rating. Council's rating is only 47% dropping. Defending our police department should be an easy task. Our police are what keeps our neighborhoods safe and we can no longer take them for granted. That's why we need to 'Defend Don't Defund' Culver City Police Department."

Summing up the Council deliberations, Councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells, said "my goal is to have a safe city. Safety for some should not come at the expense of others."


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