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Despite police reform protests, Mountain View City Council backs 'toothless' advisory board

Critics pan decision to create board that makes recommendations, but has no power to review complaints against officers

Protesters marched from Los Altos High School onto San Antonio Road in Los Altos on June 5. Photo by Adam Pardee.

Following months of civil unrest and widespread demand for police reform, the Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to create a new advisory board that will act as a liaison between the community and the city's police department.

But the decision, while hailed by council members as a way to heal community distrust and root out implicit racial bias, was seen as a serious setback to community activists. Speakers slammed the decision at the Dec. 1 meeting, calling an advisory board toothless, easy to ignore and a failure to take seriously calls for police reform.

Residents also lamented that months of community feedback -- which raised concerns of police acting heavy-handed or with perceived racial bias -- had mostly gone ignored by the council.

"Create something with a spine," said resident Ellie Greene. "Create a system that is effective, create a system that can do something."

The newly established Public Safety Advisory Board will function much like the city's Environmental Planning Commission and other advisory bodies, holding public meetings and making recommendations to the City Council, but does not have the power to change policies. The purview of the board does not include reviewing or making recommendations about complaints against police officers.

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The creation of the advisory board caps off the last six months of work by the council's subcommittee on race, equity and inclusion, which was a direct response to sustained calls for police reform. It also comes on the heels of a new report by the city's Human Relations Commission (HRC), outlining how dozens of residents feel uncomfortable with the actions of Mountain View police officers.

The new report found that, of 183 people who shared stories, 43 reported "domineering" behavior by police officers, including rudeness or bravado that was overbearing or bullying. Nearly the same amount, 42, reported race-based or biased treatment by officers, with one woman stating that her husband was stopped three times by police near his home because he matched the profile of someone reportedly selling drugs.

Another resident, an African American woman, said she gets frequently pulled over with no stated reason, and she gets asked questions like "Are you on parole or probation?" -- something she believes white people don't get asked.

For every three concerns raised, there were positive comments about the police department as well. People generally said they felt officers were helpful in resolving conflicts and are friendly and caring in interactions with the public.

Numerous residents said the HRC's report is clear evidence that the Mountain View Police Department has problems that need to be addressed, and that creating an advisory board with no significant power will make those problems easy to ignore. Many advocated for a short-term task force with clear goals, geared specifically toward rooting out implicit bias and altering the department's use of force policies.

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Resident Meghan Fraley questioned how residents can trust the city to take the new police advisory board seriously when the HRC, with its mountain of work, was given only a sliver of time to present it to the council. She also worried that the qualitative data will be dismissed as not statistically significant, which would be "incredibly disrespectful" to the community.

"I think the distrust in this moment is more around the City Council then it is around the police department," Fraley said. "We can't trust an advisory body when only five minutes is given to that much labor from the Human Relations Commission to report stories of people who have been hurt and abused."

Resident Blaine Dzwonczyk said the council's actions amount to a rushed process, creating an advisory board with a vague mission. A temporary task force focused on "real outcomes" would better increase equity and justice in Mountain View.

"I'm not comfortable with a shoddy or rushed response to protecting my Black neighbors and neighbors of color," Dzwonczyk said.

Many of the same speakers have been pushing for police reform since June, advocating for reductions in police spending and changes to use-of-force policies to better align with the national 8 Can't Wait campaign. They have also questioned the need for sworn officers with guns to respond to emergency calls related to nonviolent incidents, including homelessness, drug abuse and mental health crises.

All these police reform efforts have gained traction in pockets throughout the Bay Area this year, including the push by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to reform the Sheriff's Office. But activists say Mountain View has yet to make a similar good-faith effort, instead taking a nebulous approach to address race, equity and inclusion.

Council members largely came to the defense of city advisory boards and commissions, insisting that they do have the power to influence change at the council level. And while some speakers bristled at the idea of having police department staff advising the committee and questioned the board's independence, Councilman Chris Clark said it was important to keep a line of dialogue open with the police.

'Create something with a spine. Create a system that is effective, create a system that can do something.'

-Ellie Greene, Mountain View resident

"The last thing we would want here to have an adversarial relationship where we have a body where our key partner in all this, the police department, feels like some level of trust has been broken," Clark said.

Councilman John McAlister said speakers were too quick to take the national narrative about police abuse of power and impose it on Mountain View, which doesn't have the same problems of police violence and mistrust present in other communities. He also dismissed as ignorance the idea that the city's boards and commissions don't have power.

"To say this body we are going to make is powerless -- you do not know how Mountain View works," McAlister said. "Make sure when you guys are coming down on us that you know the whole story of what we're trying to do."

Council members generally agreed that the Public Safety Advisory Board should have some concrete check-in with the City Council in one year to discuss progress and, if necessary, make changes to the group's scope of work. They also floated the idea of changing the name of the board to some type of committee or commission.

Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga stood by her response to the public unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, including the creation of the council's subcommittee on race, equity and inclusion -- tasked with focusing on implicit bias and race relations on the whole rather than a laser-like focus on police reform.

Abe-Koga noted that racism experienced by Asian Americans hasn't factored into community comments, and questioned whether the tone of the public comments at the meeting were themselves a sign of prejudice.

"There is a lot of implicit bias, even by the way public comment has been received," Abe-Koga said. "I don't know if it's because I'm mayor but I'm also a woman of color, and when I'm yelled at by other people, especially people who are not of color, I question whether that's an implicit bias."

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Despite police reform protests, Mountain View City Council backs 'toothless' advisory board

Critics pan decision to create board that makes recommendations, but has no power to review complaints against officers

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Dec 2, 2020, 10:32 am

Following months of civil unrest and widespread demand for police reform, the Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to create a new advisory board that will act as a liaison between the community and the city's police department.

But the decision, while hailed by council members as a way to heal community distrust and root out implicit racial bias, was seen as a serious setback to community activists. Speakers slammed the decision at the Dec. 1 meeting, calling an advisory board toothless, easy to ignore and a failure to take seriously calls for police reform.

Residents also lamented that months of community feedback -- which raised concerns of police acting heavy-handed or with perceived racial bias -- had mostly gone ignored by the council.

"Create something with a spine," said resident Ellie Greene. "Create a system that is effective, create a system that can do something."

The newly established Public Safety Advisory Board will function much like the city's Environmental Planning Commission and other advisory bodies, holding public meetings and making recommendations to the City Council, but does not have the power to change policies. The purview of the board does not include reviewing or making recommendations about complaints against police officers.

The creation of the advisory board caps off the last six months of work by the council's subcommittee on race, equity and inclusion, which was a direct response to sustained calls for police reform. It also comes on the heels of a new report by the city's Human Relations Commission (HRC), outlining how dozens of residents feel uncomfortable with the actions of Mountain View police officers.

The new report found that, of 183 people who shared stories, 43 reported "domineering" behavior by police officers, including rudeness or bravado that was overbearing or bullying. Nearly the same amount, 42, reported race-based or biased treatment by officers, with one woman stating that her husband was stopped three times by police near his home because he matched the profile of someone reportedly selling drugs.

Another resident, an African American woman, said she gets frequently pulled over with no stated reason, and she gets asked questions like "Are you on parole or probation?" -- something she believes white people don't get asked.

For every three concerns raised, there were positive comments about the police department as well. People generally said they felt officers were helpful in resolving conflicts and are friendly and caring in interactions with the public.

Numerous residents said the HRC's report is clear evidence that the Mountain View Police Department has problems that need to be addressed, and that creating an advisory board with no significant power will make those problems easy to ignore. Many advocated for a short-term task force with clear goals, geared specifically toward rooting out implicit bias and altering the department's use of force policies.

Resident Meghan Fraley questioned how residents can trust the city to take the new police advisory board seriously when the HRC, with its mountain of work, was given only a sliver of time to present it to the council. She also worried that the qualitative data will be dismissed as not statistically significant, which would be "incredibly disrespectful" to the community.

"I think the distrust in this moment is more around the City Council then it is around the police department," Fraley said. "We can't trust an advisory body when only five minutes is given to that much labor from the Human Relations Commission to report stories of people who have been hurt and abused."

Resident Blaine Dzwonczyk said the council's actions amount to a rushed process, creating an advisory board with a vague mission. A temporary task force focused on "real outcomes" would better increase equity and justice in Mountain View.

"I'm not comfortable with a shoddy or rushed response to protecting my Black neighbors and neighbors of color," Dzwonczyk said.

Many of the same speakers have been pushing for police reform since June, advocating for reductions in police spending and changes to use-of-force policies to better align with the national 8 Can't Wait campaign. They have also questioned the need for sworn officers with guns to respond to emergency calls related to nonviolent incidents, including homelessness, drug abuse and mental health crises.

All these police reform efforts have gained traction in pockets throughout the Bay Area this year, including the push by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to reform the Sheriff's Office. But activists say Mountain View has yet to make a similar good-faith effort, instead taking a nebulous approach to address race, equity and inclusion.

Council members largely came to the defense of city advisory boards and commissions, insisting that they do have the power to influence change at the council level. And while some speakers bristled at the idea of having police department staff advising the committee and questioned the board's independence, Councilman Chris Clark said it was important to keep a line of dialogue open with the police.

"The last thing we would want here to have an adversarial relationship where we have a body where our key partner in all this, the police department, feels like some level of trust has been broken," Clark said.

Councilman John McAlister said speakers were too quick to take the national narrative about police abuse of power and impose it on Mountain View, which doesn't have the same problems of police violence and mistrust present in other communities. He also dismissed as ignorance the idea that the city's boards and commissions don't have power.

"To say this body we are going to make is powerless -- you do not know how Mountain View works," McAlister said. "Make sure when you guys are coming down on us that you know the whole story of what we're trying to do."

Council members generally agreed that the Public Safety Advisory Board should have some concrete check-in with the City Council in one year to discuss progress and, if necessary, make changes to the group's scope of work. They also floated the idea of changing the name of the board to some type of committee or commission.

Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga stood by her response to the public unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, including the creation of the council's subcommittee on race, equity and inclusion -- tasked with focusing on implicit bias and race relations on the whole rather than a laser-like focus on police reform.

Abe-Koga noted that racism experienced by Asian Americans hasn't factored into community comments, and questioned whether the tone of the public comments at the meeting were themselves a sign of prejudice.

"There is a lot of implicit bias, even by the way public comment has been received," Abe-Koga said. "I don't know if it's because I'm mayor but I'm also a woman of color, and when I'm yelled at by other people, especially people who are not of color, I question whether that's an implicit bias."

Comments

Alexander
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Dec 2, 2020 at 11:34 am
Alexander, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 11:34 am

Disappointing that the councilmembers, especially Abe-Koga and McAlister continue to spend time talking about themselves and complaining about residents rather than listening to them.

In last night's meeting, the HRC, after hundreds of contributions and countless hours of work, was given just 5 minutes to present. Compare that to the ~30 minutes of defensive rambling on the topic at the end of the meeting by Abe-Koga, Kamei, and McAlister, and it tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.


Essy Stone
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2020 at 12:14 pm
Essy Stone, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 12:14 pm

I was shocked at how dismissive and disrespectful the council was towards all the callers last night. Like the evidence collected by the HRC, the calls revealed a clear pattern that the council chose to ignore, and worse, seemed to take as personal attacks against themselves. I was initially pleased to hear that Mayor Abe-Koga is vying to replace Simitian as supervisor, but after this meeting, it’s become evident to me that she is unfit to hold the position. I will not vote for her, I will tell others not to vote for her, and I will work to elect someone who actually listens to their constituents in her place. I hope my fellow MV Voice readers will join me.


Miriam
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Dec 2, 2020 at 12:39 pm
Miriam, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 12:39 pm

To hear council suggest that some of the most engaged Mountain View residents "do not know how Mountain View works" is really disappointing. The complaint that advisory bodies in Mountain View are "toothless" comes directly from folks who have served on such advisory bodies.

While I agreed with some and not others, I appreciated that councilmembers Clark, Hicks, Matichack, and Ramirez calmly responded community member feedback based on the merits of the arguments. The Mountain View community can be passionate, and personally I believe this is a strength of our city. I hope that in their roles as public servants and elected representatives, members of city council will respond to passionate community feedback by listening carefully and responding thoughtfully to what the community is saying.


Michael
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Dec 2, 2020 at 2:24 pm
Michael, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 2:24 pm

It would be helpful if this article included which Council members voted for / against the creation of the new advisory board.


Glen
Registered user
The Crossings
on Dec 2, 2020 at 3:02 pm
Glen, The Crossings
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 3:02 pm

Why fix something that isn't broken? Looking at Mountain View police's own web site from before the time of the BLM protests and the police reform shows evidence that the MV police was already doing what the protesters advocate. MV police are trained in de-escalation. They have a diverse and qualified force. They are transparent in the number of times and circumstances when they must apply force. I'm a nobody in MV, but the MV police and MV politicians return my calls. I can go to the MV city council meetings. I don't need a committee to get in the way when I have a complaint.


SC Parent
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Dec 2, 2020 at 3:53 pm
SC Parent, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 3:53 pm

This seems like a reasonable approach. If the Council had created a more empowered board (like the Rent Control Board), they would have been accused of giving too much power to unelected members and we would have had civil war about the process for approving members. If you think the Rent Control Board is unaccountable or insensitive to the needs of renters, it's a bit schizophrenic to be demanding this board have unabridged power.

This decision places the board on the same level of responsibility as all of the other city commissions. The City Council members will continue to ultimately be responsible to the voters as to whether they are addressing the community's concerns. And there are new councilmembers joining soon, so this vote respects the contributions of the new members. Again, it seems reasonable to me.


Greg David
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Dec 2, 2020 at 5:33 pm
Greg David, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 5:33 pm

Where do I sign up?

This advisory board needs more than just cop haters and boot lickers at each extreme.


Todd
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Dec 2, 2020 at 7:03 pm
Todd, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 7:03 pm

Are there ANY members of the Mtn. View City Council who were NOT endorsed by the police union when they ran for office?


Ron Wolf
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Dec 3, 2020 at 6:25 pm
Ron Wolf, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 3, 2020 at 6:25 pm

"The last thing we would want here to have an adversarial relationship where we have a body where our key partner in all this, the police department, feels like some level of trust has been broken," Clark said.

Well, no Mr Clark, you are totally off on this. The last thing 'we' would want here is to have a police dept that is not accountable to Council or is against having their actions reviewed.

This whole thing is just terrible optics and couldn't look more like intentional stonewalling. I'm disappointed in Council letting this opportunity for better governance slip by.

Disappointed, but not surprised, #followTheMoney...


Mark
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Dec 3, 2020 at 9:50 pm
Mark, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Dec 3, 2020 at 9:50 pm

The organization BLM, is a violent, Marxist organization, which I do not welcome or want to come to our city. Activist, stay out of Mtn.View. Go to Portland or Seattle were you are welcome.

Black Lives matter, yes, so do Brown, Yellow and every color under the sun matters. Yet you can not say this without the BLM organization threatening you for saying that.


Steven Goldstein
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Dec 3, 2020 at 11:56 pm
Steven Goldstein, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 3, 2020 at 11:56 pm

Sounds like the City Citizens are going to have to pass another City Charter Amendment so that a independent committee gets ELECTED by the City with the power to discipline the City Police.

Our experience with the RHC has proven that the City Council will try to manipulate that committee.

Perhaps with the threat of the City using the City Charter to handcuff the City Council might be enough to get them off their you know what's and get something done the right way?


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Dec 4, 2020 at 7:58 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 7:58 am

Really disappointed that the City Council didn't go with the successful model it had adopted a few years ago to address environmental sustainability issues (another crisis):

"The Environmental Sustainability Task Force 2 (ESTF-2) was a Council Advisory Body of appointed community members that ran from September 2017 to June 2018. ESTF-2 developed 36 recommendations for specific actions the City can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Regardless of how a committee is labeled -a Task Force, an Advisory Body, or both- what matters are the goals set for its work.
There was hardly any discussion of goals during the Council meeting, let's now hope the newly elected council will set some tangible ones.


JustAWorkingStiff
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2020 at 11:31 pm
JustAWorkingStiff, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2020 at 11:31 pm

Any Advisory Board city uses for police oversight should receive training on why and how police operations are currently conducted. And any differences of opinion between the police and the advisory board clearly identified and acknowledged. It has been my experience that there may be a very wide gap between what inexperienced civilians think and the why and how of actual police work.

That gap needs to be narrowed, and there may be areas where they will need to agree to disagree. The problem with these kind of issues is that the wrong policy or operational implementation may result in a police officer killed, injured, or inadvertently reduce their effectiveness (the law of unintended consequences).

The City Council made the correct decision to have this committee in an advisory role, not a decision making role. The Advisory Board will need to sharpen their data collection and persuasion skills, and rely less on just making demands. The police department should have the final say how they conduct law enforcement operations, subject to oversight from City Council.

With that said, I am a bit critical of MVPD. It did not surprise me to see a survey suggesting bullying/over bearing MVPD officers. Over a period of a decade I received 2 tickets. One from Sunnyvale PD, the other from MVPD. Both busted me fair and square since I did indeed violate traffic laws. The difference was that the Sunnyvale PD officer was very professional when issuing me a ticket. The MVPD officer used bullying, unnecessary language unrelated to issuing me a ticket. I am a supporter of law enforcement and found his conduct unprofessional. In the past, I was an elected civilian representing civilian problems to law enforcement. We had a very good working relationship, with law enforcement being very effective. I observed police officers being very patient with both naïve and rude civilians, which was a tribute to their professionalism and training. This was a very violent and heavily armed city, with about 100 murders in a good year, and approaching 400 murders in a bad year, along with significant riots. Yet, this MVPD officer operating in a relatively low stress city chose to bully somebody who was cooperative and no threat (unless you consider dropping my laptop on his foot a threat). MV is a pretty quiet city compared to the violent city I came from, so I do not believe that this MVPD officer was experiencing so much stress as to justify his behavior. What is the point of this story? A police advisory board can be useful, but it needs to have boundaries.


AlishaRendals
Registered user
Bailey Park
on Jan 11, 2021 at 6:19 am
AlishaRendals, Bailey Park
Registered user
on Jan 11, 2021 at 6:19 am

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