In response to calls to defund the police department and amend law enforcement policies, South San Francisco officials will form a committee designed to address concerns rising from a community movement.

South San Francisco Mayor Rich Garbarino announced Wednesday, July 8, plans to establish a task force comprised of councilmembers Flor Nicolas and Mark Nagales and others to examine the demands for reform.

Garbarino said he hoped the commission on social and racial equity would provide a platform for dialogue between city officials and community members to collaboratively craft solutions.

“I want to provide a meaningful forum for discussion,” said Garbarino, who said the commission will include city and school district officials as well as members from political advocacy organization Change SSF.

James Coleman, who represents Change SSF, said his organization is cautiously optimistic discussions will give way to the structural changes.

“We are skeptical but definitely hopeful that we can engage in a more sustained, intimate dialogue,” said Coleman, noting that details regarding the committee’s formation are yet to be announced by officials.

He also doubted the committee would be granted authority to make the sweeping changes sought by the organization which would like to divert money away from the police department to fund other programs.

Change SSF is advocating for defunding the local police department and redirecting that money to paying for first responders trained to de-escalate potentially volatile situations, as well as those with specialized skills to accommodate people experiencing mental or emotional crises.

“This way we can better ensure our community is better protected and better safeguarded,” said Coleman.

Beyond issues related to law enforcement, Change SSF members plan to participate in a Tuesday, July 14, rally alongside South San Francisco Unified School District teachers who are concerned with plans to reopen school campuses.

Looking ahead, Coleman said the group could turn its attention to community service and outreach, volunteering or grooming potential candidates for election to the school board or City Council.

“Any way we can help the community and advocate for people in the community, especially those who are marginalized, we will pursue those avenues,” he said.

The organization is comprised of roughly 30 core members, said Coleman, who are largely college and high school students as well as teachers and organizers from Black, Asian and Latino communities.

Coleman, a South San Francisco native who attends Harvard University, said he believed overhauling the city’s financing system to build more holistic programming is essential to meet the needs of all residents.

“Our system of policing has to be reimagined to ensure our community is safe,” he said, referencing fatal encounters between residents and police in South San Francisco and surrounding cities to buttress his argument for reform.

The positions expressed are similar to those raised last month, when community members urged officials crafting the budget for the upcoming fiscal year to spend money intended for police on community programs instead.

In response, officials proposed drawing $85,000 from the Police Department which had been designated for community programming and assigning it to the City Manager’s Office.

Officials also expressed interest in allocating an additional $200,000 toward the city’s innovation fund, with hopes that the money could benefit programming in the Parks and Recreation Department.

Consistent with the effort to ramp up funding for enrichment programs, councilmembers at the most recent meeting also expressed interest in learning more about Assembly Bill 2054, which could provide grant funding to community organizations which may respond to those experiencing a mental health crisis.

“I have a lot of interest in this,” said Vice Mayor Mark Addiego, who called for a discussion about the proposed legislation at a meeting later this month. He balanced that perspective though by acknowledging the program has nothing to do with defunding the police department.

For his part, Coleman expressed an appreciation for the city’s piecemeal strategy in funding enrichment programs. But he maintained that defunding was a central focus of the Change SSF mission.

“That money can be better used serving the community,” he said.

Garbarino, meanwhile, said officials are committed to working with the organization on potential identifying solutions, but said defunding the police department will not be considered.

“We are willing to sit down and explore a means to find solutions they bring up without defunding the police department,” he said.

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