Decisions about the future of a chief of police in Half Moon Bay are on hold until the City Council hears more public outreach and expert testimony about potential policing models.
Councilmember Deborah Penrose proved to be the pivotal vote and noted the city did need to make police reform changes, but she wanted more public input and information from experts before making a decision.
“My issue is not that I don’t want change and that I don’t want Half Moon Bay having some say over policy that pertains to police behavior in Half Moon Bay. It’s not that at all. It’s just that it’s the mechanics of how we do it,” Penrose said.
The council at its June 15 meeting voted 3-2 to table the recommendations from the Jimenez-Rarback Report on Policing and Public Safety asking for a new chief of police to provide oversight over the Sheriff’s Office. It instead voted to continue the public outreach and survey process on potential police reform. The May 28 police reform report from councilmembers Harvey Rarback and Joaquin Jimenez called for a new chief of police who would serve as head of a new Department of Public Safety, lead negotiations with the Sheriff’s Office and have some deputy oversight. The council voted at its June 1 meeting to have a discussion on the report and give staff direction.
The discussion Tuesday divided the council and members of the public. Some favored moving forward quickly with a chief of police, while others wanted the already established community input approach before decisions on police reform. The differences resulted in two motions on the floor, with Mayor Robert Brownstone, Vice Mayor Debbie Ruddock and Penrose voting for continuing community input. A motion from councilmembers Harvey Rarback and Joaquin Jimenez argued for an aggressive timeline that included directing the city to begin the process for a new chief of police. Rarback proposed a July 6 meeting for public input, followed by a July 20 deadline for staff to present a job description to the council. An application period would start in August, with a new chief of police announced in November.
Rarback said Half Moon Bay’s decision to go to a contracted model in 2011 with the Sheriff’s Office abdicated any responsibility and forfeited any right to oversight, even if the situation called for it. He expressed vocal support for police reform and a chief of police.
Jimenez wanted to create a partnership with the Sheriff’s Office and put options together to create better community policing.
“We are together. We are the same. We want safety in our streets, but we also want accountability and transparency because we have to be able to build the trust,” Jimenez said.
Ruddock said the report presented a bold alternative to public safety, but she did not support hiring a chief of police currently or reorganizing city services. She thought the manner and timeline of the changes suggested were not what the majority of residents wanted.
“I think the right solution for our community is better than the quick solution,” Ruddock said.
Brownstone wanted to hear more from public and policing experts before deciding about a police chief.
“I’m not in favor of recommending moving forward right now,” Brownstone said.
Penrose asked for experts from Eugene, Oregon, on how specific programs would work before deciding on a chief of police. Eugene runs a program called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS, as a community policing initiative for mental health crises. She still had questions about the police chief’s budget, schedule and job description she wanted answered. She did not want staff to develop a police chief job description when she was unsure what the job entailed.
City Manager Bob Nisbet said the city would schedule a July special meeting for public discussion and invite representatives from Eugene, Sonoma County and law students at Stanford University to discuss new policing model options. Nisbet said the council would proceed with its original timeline of gathering information before deciding, with a Public Safety Subcommittee scheduled for June 24.
“They wanted to gather more information before taking any additional steps,” Nisbet said after the meeting.
Nisbet said the council would make any further decisions about the report and proposed suggestions and direct that information to staff. Any police chief addition would need to be calculated in the recently approved city budget.
The discussion featured a presentation from Dr. Greg Woods, a professor at San Jose State University, who discussed the importance of ethics and accountability in policing. Carl Tennenbaum, a former sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department, also spoke about the benefits of civilian responders to low-risk calls.
Some public speakers favored a chief of police and police reform, while others spoke against it. Public speaker Kate Mack, a public health researcher, said the report would promote public safety and improving community health. She had heard of numerous encounters between police and residents of potentially unnecessary policing in her two years living in Half Moon Bay. She noted unnecessary and heavy policing practices contribute to health disparities.
“As a public health researcher, I see this proposal as not only promoting public safety but improving community health here in Half Moon Bay. Health defined not just by the absence of disease but by one of complete physical, mental and emotional well-being,” Mack said.
Public speaker Bill Balson said the proposal would create radical change and increase violent crime, reduce public safety and increase city expenses.
“The principle recommendations are to add a layer of administration, i.e., the chief of police, and to stop enforcing a whole array of laws,” Balson said.
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Note to readers: This story has been changed. It had previously incorrectly stated Dr. Greg Woods worked at San Francisco State University. He works at San Jose State University.