On the news and in the papers, the hum has been impossible to ignore.
Whether because of cell phone cameras, new technology for cops or increased interest, talk of law enforcement tactics has been on the rise, with every person who has a Twitter account sharing their perspective. One man who knows what it’s like to walk a beat, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, says that when it comes to law enforcement, it’s time to put communities in the driver’s seat.
“Policing is the public’s business, and the public has the full right and responsibility to work collaboratively with local law enforcement,” says Stamper, who will be speaking this weekend at both the Resource Center for Nonviolence and the Nickelodeon.
Stamper will discuss community policing and what he sees as the increasing militarization of law enforcement in America. In the days after, he will meet both the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) on Monday, with the same topics in mind.
Stamper says that too often in the U.S., civilians are treated as enemy combatants. Less than three years ago, officers were patrolling the streets of Ferguson, Missouri with sniper rifles behind ambush-resistant vehicles, sending snarling police dogs after crowds of nonviolent protesters marching in response to the shooting of Michael Brown. This past fall, law enforcement at Standing Rock, North Dakota tear-gassed and sprayed freezing water on protesters during sub-zero temperatures.
“It’s outrageous to see that kind of symbolism that speaks out to other parts of the world, where the military are the police,” says Stamper, who has authored two books about policing, including To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America’s Police, which came out last June.
Stamper himself resigned from the Seattle force in early 2000, after his department’s swift and powerful response to the massive World Trade Organization protests a few months earlier that yielded more than 100 protests and prompted international outcry.
Critics of police militarization often argue that the trend began under President Bill Clinton, who signed into law a program allowing for excess military equipment to be transferred to civilian law enforcement agencies.
Four months into 2017, there have been 308 people fatally shot by police in the United States. More than half of the victims are either black or Hispanic, and about 20 percent of the people killed had a mental illness, according to the Washington Post. Last year, the number was 963, including two deaths in Santa Cruz County—15-year-old Luke Smith was shot by a sheriff’s deputy in November, and mentally ill 32-year-old Sean Arlt by a Santa Cruz police officer in October.
Both deaths could have been prevented, says Lee Brokaw, who put together Stamper’s Santa Cruz visit and sits on the board of directors for the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office has already investigated both incidents, announcing that it would not be charging either of the involved officers, although Arlt’s family announced this month that it was filing suit against SCPD.
Citizen review boards are the most effective way to shift from the aggressive policing culture to one that is more in-line with community values, says Stamper.
“All instances of force should be reviewed by the citizens who are being protected and served by their police department,” says Stamper. “Americans have to demand a seat at the table if an invitation isn’t sent. Police in America belong to the people, not the other way around.”
Police leaders should hear community voices on recruitment efforts, supervision, leadership, program development, crisis management and dealing with protests, he argues.
SCPD had a seven-member citizen review board for nearly a decade starting in 1994, but the Santa Cruz City Council opted to disband it after determining it to be ineffective and costly, says SCPD Chief Kevin Vogel. A police auditor model has been in place since the early 2000s, where an auditor reviews all internal affairs investigations and inquiries made by the public, and then reports to the city manager and city council’s public safety committee. Outside of the auditor and the public safety committee, made up of three councilmembers, all other levels of review are done internally.
Vogel says he would have no problem with the city creating a new citizen review board. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the public getting involved, we have nothing to hide here,” he says.
Within the next month, the department’s newly established Chief’s Advisory Committee—which is different from a citizen’s review board—will start meeting for the first time to provide input and comments to the department on city law enforcement policies. The committee of 15 includes representatives from groups like the Homeless Services Center, Take Back Santa Cruz, National Alliance on Mental Illness and the ACLU. Its first major focus will be on policies surrounding the use of body cameras, which the SCPD plans to start using by the end of the year.
The sheriff’s department has already begun using body cameras, and has had a community advisory team providing input for three years now, but similarly doesn’t have a permanent review board. After the shooting of Smith, Sheriff Jim Hart announced the formation of a Serious Incident Review Board to determine if the department could improve its response to critical incidents. This group, made up of three community members and three use-of-force instructors, submitted its findings and recommendations in February. In response, Hart directed his staff to implement all of the recommendations, including one that says the use of a patrol rifle should be monitored by a supervisor.
“We’re trying to break down the walls between police and the community,” says Santa Cruz Chief Deputy Craig Wilson. “Policing is something you do with a community, not to a community.”
Stamper will speak at the at the Resource Center for Nonviolence on Ocean Street from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 29 for an event called ‘Forum on Community Police Relations.’ Other panelists include attorney Samara Marion from the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability, Santa Cruz City Councilmember Sandy Brown and journalist John Malkin.
The Nickelodeon on Lincoln Street will screen ‘Do Not Resist’ at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 30, as part of the Reel Work Film Festival. The film will be followed by a conversation with Stamper.