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."