By Francesca Wright
It has been over a year that community members have been asking City Council to create meaningful structural change in how we address public safety. We have marched. We have sent public comments to City Council meetings. We have analyzed local police traffic stop and crime data, researched the underpinnings of public safety as well as examples of effective public safety practices.
We have sent petitions. We have met individually with each council member. Over 800 people signed an open letter to the Council. Three council-appointed commissions unanimously supported nine recommendations on public safety.
Our former Mayor offered a road map of how to create a Department of Public Safety that could position the City of Davis to become a leader in evidence-based prevention and early intervention.
This may be the most public pressure exerted on any council in the 23 years I have lived in Davis California. And after all of this, how has the current city council responded?
We have witnessed performative rhetoric, an increased police budget, and the most modest changes possible. All while numerous other cities are taking progressive steps forward, the very kind we’ve been urging the City of Davis to take. Our “fair city” is falling farther behind the curve.
Recently the Mayor invited the Chair of the Police Accountability Commission, and the leadership team of Yolo People Power to meet and discuss differing perceptions of what the City Council has accomplished. We heard from the Mayor that downtown business owners are worried about crime. We heard from the Vice-Mayor that “all those people who called in to defund the police don’t know what they are talking about.”
What was sadly missing from their comments hurt more. We did not hear their plan to address disparities in the ways people of color are treated by police in Davis. We did not hear their plans to shift code enforcement and traffic control to unarmed personnel or to narrow permissible reasons for making traffic stops. We heard no efforts to adopt anti-racist policies in the city despite council members’ appearance at multiple Black Lives marches, even claiming that racism must be systemically addressed like Covid-19. We heard no commitment to create a department-level position to oversee and direct evidence-based public safety.
Basically, Council has accepted the police chief’s concession to move two homeless outreach workers out of his department, earmarked some one-time funding for an analyst. Thankfully, they have agreed to participate in an important county-led mental health response project, “Crisis Now,” which has already been wholeheartedly embraced by Woodland and West Sacramento.
While they have not resisted the county’s vision, they have not advanced Davis’ vision. This is not leadership. This is maintenance of the status quo.
I no longer feel it is worth providing research and advocating for structural change with this Council. Until we have persons in office who can imagine better, who will incorporate research into policy, who will provide clear direction to staff, and who have an agenda for change, we will remain the community where those with racial and economic privilege can pretend all is well. Meanwhile, police will continue to justify helicopter surveillance and use of attack dogs to capture homeless seeking warmth in the winter; to stop, search and arrest black people nearly six times more than white folks; and to persist in the misperception that policing is reducing harm.
To have meaningful change we need effective visionary leadership.
Francesca Wright is a Davis resident and the co-founder of Yolo People Power