Members of the Davis community call for independent Department of Public Safety in letter with over 700 signatures
During the April 6, 2021 Davis City Council meeting, the city council members voted unanimously to move homeless services out of the Davis Police Department (DPD). All of the city council members also said that there are other service calls that should be dealt with non-sworn and non-armed personnel.
Morgan Poindexter, a UC Davis Immunology graduate student and member of the research team at Yolo People Power (YPP), a volunteer group that focuses on promoting justice, explained that “police do every job in society that is not desirable to be done by someone else,” such as dealing with unhoused people and traffic as there is often not enough money allocated to these issues by society and toward creating systems that work for these services.
“What I would like police to do in our society would be essentially just the jobs that they’re trained for: only the things that they go to academy and train specifically for, which would be apprehending criminals, dealing with violent crime and not so much arresting people for loitering, giving people traffic tickets—all of sorts of those things which are non-violent and in some cases even victimless crimes, like people who are arrested [for] drug possession,” Poindexter said.
Only 4% of calls to 911 or the police in Davis are for violent crimes, according to Poindexter. Instead of focusing on punishment and “punitive measures,” Poindexter said that there needs to be more focus on “support for people before they become unhoused.”
In a letter dated March 22—which has amassed the support of more than 700 signatures and organizations such as YPP—members of the Davis community called for the city to create an independent Department of Public Safety, separate from the Police Department that is “staffed by social workers, civil servants, and mental healthcare professionals.”
Poindexter explained that while YPP was working on its Time for The Nine campaign to educate community members about its nine recommendations for public safety, YPP also connected with Yolo Democratic Socialists of America and the United Auto Workers Local 2865, Davis Unit (UAW 2865).
“And so those core three groups decided to co-author and sort of form a coalition together to in our own separate ways help to push the city council toward the creation of this new department,” Poindexter said. “So we created this open letter which essentially is calling for the creation of an independent department of public safety, which would essentially prioritize the wellbeing and safety of all members of our community, divert calls away from the police department and really look at things like code enforcement, parking, traffic, mental and behavioral health calls, welfare checks and all of that.”
UC Davis Associate Professor of Sociology Ryan Finnigan explained the role that policing typically plays in society, particularly in relation to individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
“In general, policing is not a constructive way to provide social services, especially for people experiencing homelessness,” Finnigan said via email. “Research in Los Angeles and San Francisco has shown that police themselves often feel ill-equipped to provide social services. Police generally have a limited range of options when called to address homelessness, which frequently result in shuffling off people experiencing homelessness, writing tickets, and sometimes more extreme outcomes (like arrests or violence). Police often
recognize that these actions do little to address homelessness and can often make it worse.”
There are currently three non-sworn personnel at the DPD working in homeless services and doing homeless outreach. They sometimes co-respond with officers, but Poindexter explained that separating city employees from the police can help reassure unhoused individuals that the city employee’s “boss is not the police chief, that they’re not in danger of being cited for trespassing.” Instead, the city employees can help the individuals and provide them with the services they need.
Moving homeless services out of the DPD is economically beneficial and will allow there to be more of a focus on homeless services, according to Poindexter. She explained that the police chief receives funding, “which right now is 30% of all the discretionary funding of the entire city” and has a duty to allocate this funding to protect officers and make sure their equipment is working well.
“That’s his duty as the police chief,” Poindexter said. “So housing something like homeless outreach inside the police department means that the police chief is necessarily going to have to make a decision between ‘do I buy a new vehicle, do I invest in this new training’—whatever his consideration is—versus ‘do I fund the homeless outreach team.’”
Finnigan further described how those experiencing homelessness usually do not see police as an ally.
“Even when police accompany outreach service workers, police presence can deter people experiencing homelessness from accepting assistance,” Finnigan said via email. “People of Color, especially Black People, are overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness. Racial trauma associated with police violence compounds this disconnect.”
Finnigan added that this is also the case “for mental health crises or other social issues among other systematically disadvantaged communities, more generally.”
Overall, Poindexter believes that moving homeless services out of the DPD will benefit the city positively.
“I think the move will have a positive impact in our community; I really would like to see this city take the next step and create this independent department of Public Health and Safety because I really think that that would have the biggest net positive benefit for Davis as a city,” Poindexter said.
Written by: Shraddha Jhingan — firstname.lastname@example.org