A coalition of Mountain View residents are demanding that the city take action to reform the Mountain View Police Department, ending what they describe as unjust law enforcement activities and a culture of systemic racism.
Dozens of residents, many identifying themselves as members of the Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability, urged the City Council on Tuesday to take steps to hold its own police department accountable when it comes to use of force and racial inequities in policing.
Throughout the marathon meeting that extended past 3 a.m., speakers called for stronger community oversight of police misconduct, a complete review and revision of use of force policies and a scaling back of the police department's nearly $45 million budget. A flurry of close to 160 emails rolled in as the council discussed the upcoming budget, many advocating for cuts to law enforcement spending.
"Don't wait for a horrific event to put Mountain View front and center in the national news," said resident Molly Carlson. "We need to review, and reform when necessary, our police policies now."
The calls for change come in the wake of numerous protests in Mountain View and neighboring cities over the last two weeks, sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The protests have largely been in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and have increasingly focused on policy changes aimed at curbing police violence that disproportionately targets people of color.
In light of the protests and civil unrest, Mountain View Police Chief Max Bosel presented at the meeting with a conciliatory message — that racial equality and equal justice under the law is a goal shared by everyone, and that the department will strive to improve through collaboration, outreach and compassionate policing.
"We are not perfect," Bosel said. "We are human, we make mistakes and we need to constantly strive to do better."
Bosel pointed to the department's track record as proof of its restraint, noting that fewer than 30 out of 36,000 calls for service in 2019 resulted in use of force. Although neighboring law enforcement agencies have been roiled in controversy for officer-involved shootings in recent years, Mountain View has quietly avoided discharging a firearm for 19 straight years, according to the department.
But many speakers bristled at comments by Bosel and council members suggesting that the police department was somehow immune from the problems of police brutality, discrimination and bias. Bosel also drew fiery criticism when, during his presentation, he drew a similarity between racial bias and the negativity faced by police officers.
"This is a difficult time to be on the front line," Bosel said. "To be painted with a broad brush, the men and women in our community who volunteer in a career to protect and serve, and a prolific negativity bias — really in some cases a hate for all police officers — which is a phobia that I suggest is as unjust and misplaced as other biases."
One speaker called the connection "abhorrent" and "unacceptable," while Mountain View resident Eva Tang said the negativity officers face is hardly the same thing as racial discrimination.
"With all due respect, being judged for being a police officer is nothing like being murdered for being black," Tang said. "You can take that uniform off when you get home, black people cannot take their skin off."
Other speakers were taken aback by comments from councilwoman Lisa Matichak, who said she has attended ride alongs and other police events and has "never once" doubted the department and its "wonderful group of caring, compassionate professionals," and councilman John McAlister, who also heaped praise on the department.
"No one has ever said that their department was perfect, but boy I tell you, Mountain View is pretty much there," he said.
Police officers are going to be on their best behaviors in front of council members, argued Mountain View resident Caitlin Neiman, giving them a warped perspective that has put them out of touch.
"What about talking to people who have made complaints against officers — particularly from Latinx, black and other minorities who live and work in Mountain View? I suspect that their perspectives might be a little different."
Several speakers pointed to the department's own data showing that Latino residents make up just 21.7% of the population in Mountain View, but make up 42% of the suspects and 47.9% of the arrests. Black people make up 2.2% of the city's population, but 12.3% of the suspects and 10.6% of the arrests. The numbers are fairly similar to other law enforcement agencies in the region, but Ting argues that's not a good enough justification.
"It's not enough to say that our racial statistics are on par with other police departments. we need to do better than what is on par," she said.
Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga suggested that the council create a subcommittee to continue the dialogue between the community and the police department and determine next steps, while members of the city's Human Relations Commission have already launched its own, similar effort last week.
Calls for new police policies
Members of Mountain View's police reform coalition repeatedly pushed Tuesday for what they describe as data-driven policy changes that can bring down police violence, outlined in what has been dubbed the "8 Can't Wait" campaign.
The eight policies, if adopted, would prohibit officers from using chokeholds or strangleholds or shooting at a moving vehicle, and would require officers to give a verbal warning before using deadly force. It would also require officers to report any incidents in which they used force or threatened to use force.
Ellie Greene, a member of the coalition, told the Voice that the city has only adopted a few of the campaign's policies to date, including verbal warnings before shooting and the ban on chokeholds, but that many remain missing. What's more, she said Mountain View's "duty to intervene" policy — the requirement that police intervene to stop excessive force used by a fellow officer — is poorly written and relies solely on the judgment of an officer.
"These are all proven measures to reduce violence from the police force," Greene said.
Police officials contend that the department follows "the spirit" of the 8 Can't Wait campaign with its policies already on the books, and that the department's leadership will "discuss potential changes in verbiage" to more closely align with the campaign's recommendations.
Other speakers criticized the city for outsourcing the policy-writing process to an outside, for-profit company, pointing out that the department's policy manual has largely been written by the company Lexipol. Molly Carlson, also a member of the coalition, said Lexipol has crafted its policies to the benefit of the police, with plenty of loopholes protecting them from being held accountable.
Lexipol also reportedly uses an indemnity clause in its contracts with local police departments, meaning that if the policy is deemed faulty and leads to illegal activity by officers, all legal liability and settlement costs fall to the law enforcement agency.
Police budget mostly unscathed, with some items deferred
While council members were supportive Tuesday night of fostering a long-term dialogue about cultural and policy changes to the Mountain View Police Department, they were reluctant to take up a line-by-line review of the police department's budget just weeks before approving the 2020-21 budget that had been in the works for months.
The idea of "defunding the police" has gained considerable attention in recent weeks as protesters, incensed over repeated high-profile killings of unarmed black men and women by police, have argued that divesting from law enforcement and re-routing the funds to social and mental health services would be a better use of money in the long run. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced last week he intends to cut the Los Angeles Police Department budget by as much as $150 million this year, giving the movement significant traction in California.
Speakers at the Mountain View council meeting said the city should follow suit, and reject the staff recommendation to boost police funding from $43 million last year to $44.8 million this year. They hammered proposals to spend money upgrading police vehicles ($159,000), buying 30 new patrol rifles ($52,500) and spending further funding on police drones ($12,900).
Councilman Chris Clark said he wanted to have a dialogue with the public about what policing and public safety looks like in 2020 and beyond, but that he was unwilling to make sweeping changes to the police budget at this juncture. While residents were calling for a public hearing on the police budget by June 23, he said it simply wasn't reasonable.
"There is no way we can schedule a public hearing in 13 days to have a conversation about this and modify a budget that's been in process since October and November," he said.
In a last-minute amendment, councilwoman Alison Hicks requested that the council defer the funding for drone equipment, patrol rifles and a boost in spending for parking enforcement and RV towing, at least until February, granting additional time to consider the expenditures.