Speakers from the renowned Eugene CAHOOTS program and the Stanford Criminal Justice Center educated the Half Moon Bay City Council about potential community policing methods, with the council also passing eight recommendations for a Public Safety Workplan aimed at potential community policing reforms.
Councilmember Joaquin Jimenez praised the successful CAHOOTS program, featuring a mobile crisis response team that answers calls diverted from emergency services dispatchers that works with people in crisis around mental health, substance abuse and housing. Jimenez supported a similar program on the coast and noted Half Moon Bay has people in the community capable of similar work.
“We hope that our community, Half Moon Bay, the coast, San Mateo County, will soon implement a program like the one you have,” Jimenez said.
At the July 14 City Council meeting, Ebony Morgan, program coordinator of Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, noted its role as a community policing initiative is to deescalate a crisis and support someone toward connecting people with grief counseling, substance treatment, harm reduction and further medical care. Mental health service White Bird Clinic launched CAHOOTS in 1989. CAHOOTS handles about 50 to 60 calls a day and has a team of two on each shift of an EMT and a crisis worker. It gets funding from various city and county grants. The average staffer goes through 500 hours of training on how to do unarmed verbal deescalation.
The council in June discussed potential changing policing models away from the current Sheriff’s Office model toward a more locally controlled option, including having a new chief of police, but instead paused the discussion to gather information from experts and conduct public outreach about other policing model options.
Morgan noted it takes time to gain trust with the community. She recommended looking at existing services in the area, identifying resources available for folks and getting them involved in the development and the conversation.
“It’s my suggestion that to anybody who is considering a mobile crisis program, that emphasis be placed on maintaining and gaining the trust of that community,” Morgan said.
When asked how teams stay safe, Morgan said one person surveys the scene during a situation while the other is engaged, along with constant communication with police dispatch. She noted in 2019, teams only called for police backup less than 2% of the time, and in 31 years of the program, they had not had a death or serious injury on the team.
“The thing that I think keeps us the most safe is that we are not a threat to our clients. We are showing up to say, what is your crisis today, what is going on for you and how can I be helpful. We are wearing T-shirts and jeans and boots and a radio, and that’s it,” Morgan said.
Representatives from the Stanford Criminal Justice Center presented findings from their 2021 report called “Safety Beyond Policing: Promoting Care over Criminalization” about alternatives to traditional policing and possible reforms. KC Shah and Jake Seidman, two law students who wrote the report, made the presentation.
Following the presentations, the council approved eight recommendations of its Public Safety Workplan for the 2021-22 fiscal year and directed city staff to work on the recommendations.
The recommendations asked for implementation and at least quarterly updates on the Yanira Serrano Presente! Program, promoting community events between deputies and the public, conducting a culturally competent survey about public safety and requesting statistical data that will be tracked in compliance with state laws.
The city will also work toward planning a mental health response pilot program similar to one being implemented in other Peninsula cities, pursuing grants for increased mental health services and pursuing the creation of a working group with San Mateo County cities which contract with the Sheriff’s Office for police services. Half Moon Bay will also work with the Sheriff’s Office to identity modification for community policing, training and mental health for potential incorporation into its Sheriff’s Office June 2022 contract.
As the council discussed recommended language around program implementation, City Manager Bob Nisbet noted one of the issues moving forward was potential program cost.
“If the cost is something that we don’t have the funds for that is a policy decision of the council, I, as staff, cannot deliver a program and commit to implementing something if the funding’s not there,” Nisbet said.
Vice Mayor Debbie Ruddock said the city needed to commit to broad public outreach and work with appropriate partners to plan and assess any programs and decisions.
“I think this is jumping the gun. We still have to do all that community outreach and partner building and coalition building. That’s how you make it work. We are not going to make it work on our own, five people sitting here and our staff,” Ruddock said.
Public speakers at the meeting were in support of the Sheriff’s Office and its work. Some credited their safety to deputies and asked why the city was changing a system they felt was working.
Speaker Allen Strohmeier said he had found the policing in Half Moon Bay did a good job and wanted to get more input from Cpt. Saul Lopez, who runs the Half Moon Bay Sheriff Office substation.
“I think that they have been doing an outstanding job, and I am very pleased with not only the policing but the response from the firemen and EMTs,” Strohmeier said.
Speaker Dennis Mahoney said the city needed to live within its budget and think twice before asking taxpayers for money.
“Law enforcement needs to do its job. You need to enforce the law and public safety. They need to use force when force is deemed necessary in their judgment, and that includes deadly force. They need to be supported,” Mahoney said.
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