It’s time for local leaders to rise to the moment: The country is still reeling after the murder of George Floyd, and the levers of change are in the hands of our local leaders. City Council alone controls police reform and budgeting, and Mountain View residents came out in droves to call for police reform at recent council meetings.
But local leaders threw cold water on the ask and instead agreed to defer funding for police toys like drone accessories and 3D laser scanners. These items will still be funded in February 2021.
Why are our local leaders so noncommittal about substantive reform? Per Mayor Abe-Koga and Councilwoman Lisa Matichak, the Mountain View Police Department is already “top-notch,” and so any reform would be supererogatory.
But MVPD’s internal regulations are far from “top-notch.” MVPD’s existing use-of-force policy is verbatim identical to four of the five police departments in California that have killed the most civilians per capita, per California’s DOJ.
As our city grows, so will the risk of tragedy, and if we wait for tragedy to strike before we carry out bolder reform, we will be too late. There are already disconcerting signs of misconduct.
Last summer, Officer Kroutil sent a man to the hospital after wrongly assuming he stole a car. Despite the hospitalization, MVPD listed this as a “minor” injury in their use-of-force statistics, and MVPD has not released the body camera footage.
Police Chief Bosel has been sued for sexual harassment. He won the lawsuit but lost his moral credibility: the court documents contain overwhelming evidence that Bosel led a team with a deeply broken culture, featuring hazing, indecent exposure, and assault. Any other institution would fire such a leader; he was promoted.
The above five cops made over $1.4 million last year. Add in the settlement, and these five officers cost taxpayers $2 million dollars in one year. All five were given raises last month.
Police enjoy generous compensation with little accountability, thanks to unions and qualified immunity. Given MVPD’s subpar internal regulations and given the lawsuits they’ve faced, we’re playing dice with tail-end risk if we don’t reform MVPD now.
There’s no shortage of good ideas for reform. To improve community oversight, we could start with data transparency: the police should release body camera footage after officers use force; track each officer’s false positive rate per race when making stops; and publish each officer’s complaints and any resulting discipline.
We should also follow San Francisco’s lead in hiring unarmed social workers to respond to nonviolent calls, e.g. those involving the homeless and youth. A somewhat similar program in Eugene, Oregon, diverts 17% of 911 calls, freeing police officers to focus on real crime, not wellness checks. A 4% cut to MVPD’s budget would sufficiently fund a program as large as Eugene’s program, which is estimated to pay for itself seven times over by diverting so many police and ER calls.
Council members, don’t let this moment pass you by. Many young residents are participating in local politics for the first time, and this will shape their views of local engagement for years to come. Hear them out, be responsive, and act. We need your help to make sure reform is responsible and smart, but we also need your commitment to serious reform.
When George Floyd’s daughter Gianna was asked what her father did, she exclaimed with glee that “Daddy changed the world.” We owe it to Gianna to prove her right.
Salim Damerdji is a Mountain View resident.