The Redwood City council on Monday unanimously endorsed the Obama Foundation Mayor’s Pledge to review the city’s policing policies via a community engagement process, and aims to revise the city’s budget in October with agreed upon changes to existing policies.
The decision comes amid ample calls in the community to transition funds away from the Redwood City Police Department to other community services, from affordable housing to teams of unarmed professionals that can respond to noncriminal calls instead of officers.
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A public engagement period will run from July through September, the city said. An ad-hoc committee with two members on council will work with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center and city staff to plan community engagement opportunities and ensure progress on the review process and agreed upon reforms, according to Mayor Diane Howard.
“It’s a beginning, it’s a start,” the mayor said.
The council expressed an openness to reevaluating traditional public safety in the city, such as the use of unarmed professionals in certain calls. A few members said they’ve also heard community opposition to reducing police funding.
“…We need to revisit what we think is working, what isn’t working and what we can improve on,” Councilmember Janet Borgens said, adding that a mental health component to service calls should be examined as a possibility.
Supporters of reducing policing in the city said they won’t stop advocating for changes until they happen.
“What we want is not more training, different equipment or better PR,” said Ian Walker, a Redwood City resident. “We want less policing and a transition to non-police services.”
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Councilmember Giselle Hale told the public to hold her accountable if their concerns go unheard.
“Let’s all get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Hale said. “Black Lives Matter, that’s not something we said in Courthouse Square and spray-painted on a board just to forget. It must be something we reflect in our policies and our budgets, which are ultimately the expression of our values.”
In addition to the public outreach process, the city is taking immediate steps to respond to community concerns over policing in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. It has increased frequency of racial and cultural diversity training for city police from every five years to every two years. And it is returning a military tactical vehicle donated by the federal government in 2013. It will also prohibit the use of carotid restraint by police officers, a type of vascular neck restraint, except in cases where deadly force would be authorized.
The city is also working to increase transparency by publishing more information about policing online. Info for 2019 was recently posted on the city’s website. Last year, there were 93,854 calls for police service and officer-initiated incidents in Redwood City, the data showed. Of them, 5,826 involved law enforcement contacts with members of the public. Of those contacts, force was used in 57 cases, or less than 1 percent of the time, the city said.
On an annual basis, police in Redwood City handle 20,000 more calls for service than 2008-9. The city has grown since then by about 12,000 residents, the city said.