Vacaville opinion on local police reform – good questions for all Solano cities

[BenIndy editor: “Defunding” police can mean different things to different people.  I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Hunt’s opening statement here, but he goes on to raise important questions that should be addressed here in Benicia.  – R.S.]

Solano Voices: Time to discuss police priorities

, by Curtis Hunt, July 5, 2020

But, we can and should have serious conversations about police reform, militarization and training of officers and the influence public safety unions have on local elections and city councils. We can and should have a discussion about the role of police in combating social issues.

First, we need to challenge the concept that “hiring more police will reduce crime.” Comprehensive crime reduction has three components: prevention, intervention and suppression. 

Second, we can and should have a discussion on the influence of public safety unions on local councils. The public safety unions are very powerful locally and in Sacramento. They offer local candidates campaign support both financially and more importantly with “boots on the ground.” I ran two successful campaigns, one with their support and one without. The one with their support was more enjoyable.

Third, we can and should have a conversation on skyrocketing costs. Some city budgets contribute up to 80% of their total revenue to police and fire departments. The Sacramento police chief recently commented, “We are down 100 cops.“ The follow up question then becomes, “Why is your budget two times higher than it was five years ago?”

Pension benefits, retired health care and incentive pays are exceeding the revenue-generation capacities of local governments. We are paying more and getting less. This is not sustainable.

Increased pension, health care and salaries prevent cities from hiring more personnel. It is time to ask some serious questions. We  need to have an open, respectful conversation.

Fourth, we should have a conversation about the local sales taxes. Promises made, promises broken. Measure M and Measure P pay salary and benefits for police and fire. When Measure M was passed, the first expense was to hire 11 more police officers at end of budget hearings. At this point cities really have no choice. Cites need to use the local sales tax revenue to fund the personnel. Vacaville will defer capital projects, but the results will be the same as these are all ongoing cost.

We can and should have a conversation about increasing the funding for the prevention and intervention aspect of public safety. We should consider a reduction of salary and benefits, and instead support prevention programs. We should consider supporting PAL, The Leaven, The Boys and Girls Club and other evidence-based after-school programs. We need to increase the Parks and Recreation budget to have affordable after-school programs for working parents. We should target gang prevention efforts, mentoring programs. We should look at job development job — training programs operated in challenging neighborhoods. Cities might explore incentives for local businesses to accept training positions.  

I know the police officers are empathetic and compassionate in their effort to address homelessness. But they are not selected, trained or educated in that area. We should have a multidisciplinary team with only one officer and the remaining positions filled with social workers, VA specialists, mental health workers and housing specialists. We should explore the increased use of family support workers for domestic violence. We should use community service officers for more routine calls.

I know this is not an easy conversation. When you bring this up, you get, “You are either with us, or you are  against us” as a response. Mere mention of any discussion would result in “Man, you don’t like cops.” That approach to the issue didn’t work. We need to heal and the only way to do that is start with an open and honest dialogue.

Don’t defund! Talk and make a plan for a more inclusive, comprehensive approach with prevention and intervention strategies.

Curtis Hunt worked for 15 years as a probation officer and provided counseling for delinquent offenders. He finished his career at Solano County managing a countywide prevention program. He severed six years on the Community Services Commission and 12 years on the Vacaville City Council.