The City of El Cerrito will be hosting a virtual town hall on the budget, Saturday, August 1st. At 10 a.m. More information on Town Hall  We urge you to participate, and this is why:

  1.  The city is facing a 5.5 million dollar budget deficit.
  2. The city called in consultants to handle the problem. The consultants recommended cuts in services, including library, recreation and senior services. 
  3. Public outcry saved library services however, the City Manager and the consultants that presented the recommendations remained determined to place the lower wage workers on the sacrificial table.  For example, it is recommended that some of the janitorial services be outsourced. This means layoffs for some long time workers who are making some of the lowest wages on city staff. 
  1. The City budget currently spends over 50% of the budget on public safety. Here is your opportunity to shape a people’s budget. The people’s budget is basically your voice, your calls for responsible government, and your willingness to stand up to the “business as usual” and think about where we stand in this moment of time.  Please see many of the blog posts for ECRG here: History of El Cerrito Budget Woes
  1. While El Cerrito as a city may not suffer from the same level of police violence, the same level of poverty and or crime as larger cities, and specifically cities with a large black population, El Cerrito suffers from being a part of the same system of policing, the same militarization, the same systemic racism that does not stop at our borders. 

The Black Lives Matter movement adopted the call of “defund the police and reimagine public safety”.  These actions go hand in hand.  Isn’t it time we ask ourselves why we need a person with a gun to write a ticket, to talk to our neighbor, to remove the unhoused off the street, to do the work of a social worker, a crisis intervention counselor?  When around the country and in our city the majority of crime is theft, and the police unusually arrive after the fact, and that most cases or materials are never recovered…should we not rethink this budget?  

The Social and Racial Justice Committee of El Cerrito Progressives urges residents to use this opportunity to challenge the traditional notions of city management, where the police budgets remain sacred, and the very basic services that cut across income and race become cherished. Isn’t the protection of people’s well being as important as the protection of our property?  And cannot both be done by rethinking how we view public safety?

BLM Discusses Defunding the Police

El Cerrito Progressives – YouTube

CALL TO ACTION for Racial Justice

Dear ECP Members and Friends, 

In our campaign for racial justice, we invite you to take part in any or all of  following actions:

1. Join the caravan from El Cerrito Plaza BART to City Hall on July 21st @ 6:00PM.  This is a covid safe event for cars, bicyclists and onlookers. For details: July 21st Caravan- Sign Up
2.  Please sign and share this petition if you have not already done so.  Rethink Public Safety
3.  Please attend the virtual City Council Meeting.  You can support the petition demands at the Public Comment period at the beginning of the meeting.  Be sure to send an email in advance to cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us and in the subject heading write:  Public Comment Not on the Agenda if you want to speak directly to Council   You can also send your comments in advance to the same email and write your statements of support.  They will be placed into the public record.   For specific information click Instructions for writing or speaking to city council
4.  Please support the City Council Resolution to support Black Lives Matter and encourage Council  to direct staff (including ECPD) to establish  a community dialogue to rethink public safety, and to move toward creating policies and actions to promote racial justice.  You can write in advance or call in by using the link above.  This item number will be 7.A.   When you email, please write: Public Comment on Item 7.a on the Agenda.   Here is the Black Lives Matter Resolution
5.  Please attend the virtual meeting of the Human Relations Commission on Wednesday, July 22nd at 7:00 p,m.  Members will be discussing future actions to promote racial justice in El Cerrito.  We want to encourage an ongoing forum that first recognizes systemic racism in our community and then begins the ongoing process of addressing it through actions and policy.  (housing, development, health services, policing,education, etc. .)  Here is the link to the HRC AGENDA and Instructions so you can also write comments if you cannot be at the meeting. 
6.  Watch a 5 minute video about the local budget and ECPD.  What is “Defund the Police”

In memory of John Lewis, ” What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.”

It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood: Police Chief Paul Keith Responds to Questions at the Virtual Policing Town Hall

With a week’s notice, the city’s police chief, Paul Keith, introduced himself and staff members  Captain Robert de la Campa and Sergeant Ian Wong at the Virtual Policing Town Hall.  The question and answer session allowed members of the public to submit questions in advance or share questions verbally or via chat in the online platform. The intent of this post isn’t to document all the questions, but to highlight points of interest to the community regarding civilian oversight of the police department, the “Defund Police Movement” and police violence.  

De-Escalation Training

Some members of the audience asked how much de-escalation training officers receive. Chief Keith didn’t offer a clear or specific response to the question. In the State of California the requirements for de-escalation are 2 hours for every 2 years. Other types of training require 24 hours every 2 years.  In reviewing the ECPD 2019 Training Plan (the 2020 has yet to be posted) https://el-cerrito.org/DocumentCenter/View/13299/Training-Plan-Final-January-2019  there is no clearly stated de-escalation training. There is a non-mandatory but essential crisis intervention training of 8-40 hours but it would be a guess on my part to assume that this is the training he was referencing. Perhaps this is why Chief Keith stated that de-escalation tactics were woven into the overall training. 

What he could not tell us was the following: What percentage of hours does de-escalation represent in the overall training of officers? Is there interest in pursuing further de-escalation training to reinforce the methods used by the department?

Several callers reported witnessing police conduct that they observed to be aggressive and intimidating, and using tactics that would more likely escalate rather than de-escalate a police interaction. The Chief responded in all instances that he didn’t hear about it and would have to look into it. Without a Civilian Review Board we do not know how many complaints are issued by residents or non-residents nor do we know the nature of those complaints. This is one of the demands on the petition https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/el-cerrito-police-reforms.  

Use of Force

On the use of force, Keith was asked if his department would consider participating in Campaign Zero’s California Police Scorecard. This campaign collects data from police departments across the state, analyzes incidents of force and lethal force, outcomes and more, and scores departments based on the analysis. For example, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department scored an F with a high percentage of arrests ending with the lethal use of force.  Chief Keith remained non-committal and stated that if they asked his agency he would consider registering –  but they haven’t yet asked. 

Addressing Police Alternatives to Homelessness and Mental Illness in El Cerrito

Several callers commented on the fact that the police budget represents 30% of our city expenditures and suggested that we need services for both homeless people and those with mental illness. The Chief commented several times that the county handles those calls.  He pointed to the county 211 service, GRIP in Richmond and other resources, indicating that they have it in hand.  What he failed to mention is that Contra Costa County is under-resourced, 211 often is helpless to assist with homelessness, and navigating the County bureaucracy is virtually impossible for many. Perhaps the Chief can ask the City Manager and the City Council to cut the Sheriff’s Department budget so we in El Cerrito can have a greater share of County resources? Or can we simply cut some positions from our own police department? What would it cost to help the homeless?  One veteran police officer with benefits and pension obligation costs the city $240,000 annually.  If the city entered into a contract with two mental health professionals, it would most likely be half of that cost.  

(Update: At the time of this writing Chief Keith announced at a community meeting that the cities and County are in discussion about how the County might take a greater regional role in replacing some of the non-policing functions currently performed by police.)

The Chief doubled down on the idea of replacing police with social workers and suggested that any call requires a police officer with a gun to keep our community safe.  Apparently he has not read about some model programs, including one in Eugene, Oregon that has been around for 30 years.  

https://whitebirdclinic.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CAHOOTS-Media-Guide-20200626.pdf  According to the Cahoots program, the crisis intervention approach saves the city millions of dollars every year, reducing the need for the police to respond to non-emergency or non-life-threatening calls.  

Statistics on Racial Disparities

When asked to respond to a recent article about the high rate of racial disparities among police arresting black people in El Cerrito (13 times more likely to be arrested than whites), the Chief dismissed the statistical finding. He said  “So when we look at demographics we try to use other benchmarks, like demographics of our high school. It better reflects who comes in and out of town.” He used the intersection of Ashbury and Central as the example. He suggested that our black population during the day is significantly higher and that rather than the figure used of 5.4% black residents, he suggested that the high school demographics (19% Black) were more appropriate. When asked about the rate based on his demographic profile he said, “ Are there still disparities, yes absolutely.”  In a follow-up inquiry, Chief Keith said he hadn’t calculated what the new rate would be, but it would be lower. 

Chief Keith did tell the audience that the actual number of arrests of people were overall on a downward trend due to a change in the types of calls the ECPD is answering and the new priorities set for patrol officers  The police are now focused on traffic crime tied to safety issues such as speeding, as opposed to tickets for late registration fees. What he didn’t tell us is whether the rate between blacks and whites was also reduced.  

Identifying Crime Spots in the City

On the issue of where crime occurs in the city, it was surprising to find out that the ECPD has been without any data mapping software for almost  5 years. Keith said the contract ended sometime ago and they hadn’t yet renewed it. They are working on it.  He mentioned that the Nixel system provided information on location, however, he also said that not all calls are entered into the Nixel system. With a $12.745 million budget, how is the Chief allocating resources without a clear picture of where calls are coming from in this city?

All in all, those asking questions were definitely concerned about how policing is conducted in El Cerrito, interested in alternatives to address mental health and homeless issues, and not persuaded that it is sufficient to punt to the county and relinquish city responsibility for social services. Sometimes it’s not what is said, but what is not said that is so revealing. The virtual town hall on policing left so many specifics unanswered.  Please listen to the complete recording and assess Chief Keith’s for yourself.  Virtual Policing Town Hall  

The Next Steps: We the community ask the City Council to adopt the 8 points from our petition in addition to defunding the police and save our services.

What can you do?

  1. Read our petition and sign: Petition for police oversight and change
  2. Attend the important caravan on July 21st to remember the names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Trevon Martin, Eric Garner and work toward the changes we need for public safety in our community and all communities.  
  3. Be part of the Drive-in City Council Meeting on July 21st at 7:00 p.m.  We will listen on our phones or radio and offer public comment via call-in.  Our presence will be felt and be heard.  
  4. Attend the virtual meeting of the Human Resource Commission on July 22nd at 7:00pm and support the action on the agenda to convene a listening session/Truth and Reconciliation session on racism in our community- to include our city officials and department heads. You can speak at public comment period.

Additional Links

Directions for viewing and calling into City Council and Agenda for the Meeting of July 21, 2020 https://elcerritoca.civicclerk.com/web/Player.aspx?id=317&key=-1&mod=-1&mk=-1&nov=0

Link to the joint Human Relations Commission and Environment Quality Commission Resolution on racial equality. https://elcerritoca.civicclerk.com/Web/GenFile.aspx?ad=452

Additional Resources

Black Lives Matter Co-founder explains “defunding the police”https://www.axios.com/defund-police-black-lives-matter-7007efac-0b24-44e2-a45c-c7f180c17b2e.html

Since 2014, The Marshall Project has been curating some of the best criminal justice reporting from around the web. In these records you will find the most recent and the most authoritative articles on the topics, people and events that are shaping the criminal justice conversation.https://www.themarshallproject.org/records/3382-police-abolition

The Breathe Act https://grist.org/justice/the-breathe-act-would-defund-police-and-fund-environmental-justice/

Reform on the State level https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/07/01/new-california-law-would-strip-convicted-officers-of-their-badges/#:~:text=As%20protesters%20nationwide%20demand%20police,State%20Sen.&text=Police%20Decertification%20Act%20of%202020.

A look at what is happening next door in Berkeley https://www.berkeleyside.com/2020/07/15/berkeley-council-approves-omnibus-motion-to-reform-policing

EC Police Department: A Closer Look

The El Cerrito Police Department (ECPD) is run under the leadership of Paul Keith. As the  department head, Chief Keith makes a combined salary with benefits and pension obligation of more than  $400,000 annually. He is responsible for the safety of our community, a police department with 54 staff, including 39 sworn police officers, and for informing the city manager and city council of police activities. His department’s budget uses close to 30% of the City’s general funds. Based on how much resources are devoted to this department, as well as the current push for re-imagining public safety, it is definitely a worthy effort to evaluate the department’s effectiveness and efficiency and budget allocations.  

Each year the ECPD Chief publishes an annual report https://www.el-cerrito.org/DocumentCenter/View/14200/Annual-Report-2019- full of stories, staff pictures (see the new k-9 for dog lovers) and of course statistics. This report is for us, and is intended to. provide information about ECPD’s activities and financials. The annual report statistics shown below, actually don’t tell us anything about effectiveness. The annual report simply documents for us the types of calls and crimes, not whether they were solved or cleared.

El Cerrito Crime Statistics from the 2019 Annual Report

To find out about clearance rates in El Cerrito, a resident or city official would have to go to the Open Justice PortalOpenJustice. Seems like that simple statistic of clearance rate should be part of the Annual Report, but it’s not and unless we ask, we would not know. Many thanks to Chief Keith who provided us with this resource when asked at the recent Police Town Hall so we could further explore or complete the annual report narrative.  

The Open Justice Portal provided us the opportunity to look not only at El Cerrito, but at our neighboring communities. We discovered that El Cerrito’s clearance rates were  low. By comparison, this is still the case. (See chart below.) 

 The ECPD does not  have a robust rate of success with the exception  of forcible rape at 25% which many would not tout as successful  Please note that four reports of forcible rapes were made in El Cerrito in 2019 (and three in 2018)  compared with 15 for San Pablo. Among aggravated assaults there were 276 in San Pablo and about half that amount in El Cerrito. 

In general, this entire exercise really leads to a bigger question. What exactly are police doing these days and do we need a police force like the one we have?  So many police, including our own chief, say that if we may not be able to stop crime, we can at least bring people to justice.  But it appears that the latter has not been all that successful, even in comparison to other cities.  

Before our city makes any cuts to recreation, senior services or day care, let’s be sure we know the following:  

-Break down the percentage of total police time and the corresponding budget by activities and tasks. Categories should include, at least: traffic violations, responding to and investigating violent crimes and shootings, responding to and investigating property crimes such as car break-ins, burglaries and theft, as well as community outreach and  simply patrolling neighborhoods

-Break down the categories of calls for services and the actual incidents to which ECPD responds. How much time, for example, (and how much budget) is devoted to people affected by homelessness and people with mental health problems?

-Address why El Cerrito has the highest crime rate, especially in relation to San Pablo who spends a similar amount of money per resident.

We as a city need to come to terms with what size force we need, particularly as we face a 5.5 million dollar deficit. There’s a philosophical question: Do we need police as we know it?  And there’s a practical question: How can we maintain services like recreation and parks, senior services and meals, and childcare and activities for youth – services that we know people use and need, when we spend so much on policing? And to what end?