The stage is set for a community listening session on policing in Pleasanton next week after the City Council unanimously approved staff's recommended police review action plan on Tuesday evening.
Leading off with the public meeting next Tuesday (July 21) for residents to speak to the council in an open-mic format to discuss anything and everything police, the three-part action plan also calls for future review of existing Pleasanton Police Department policies and procedures, and consideration of near- and long-term policy goals for community policing.
"For me, the ultimate outcomes of this action plan, it has to be right for our community … Whatever we do, the changes that we make, they need to be the right thing for this community," Vice Mayor Kathy Narum said during the council's three-hour-plus online meeting.
"I want to be clear that I think our police are doing a great job in keeping our community safe," Narum added. "Can they do better? Of course. And I think it's important to challenge ourselves and to look at that to see what we can improve on."
"I want to just take a minute and say how much I appreciate having this conversation … (and) how much I appreciate our police department and our officers," Councilwoman Julie Testa said. "I just think this is an opportunity that will just make our department better, will serve our officers better and will serve our community better."
Testa initially pushed for more "substance" at next week's meeting beyond just a listening session, saying the council already heard from nearly 40 speakers on various sides of the debate Tuesday night, but she later voted with her colleagues to keep a listening-only format for the upcoming session.
It is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 21 as an online-only meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated shelter-in-place health order.
This week's meeting, a precursor to the overarching police reform debate in Pleasanton, was organized at Narum's request last month -- backed by Councilman Jerry Pentin and Mayor Jerry Thorne -- to have city administrators draft an action plan beforehand to outline how the police policy review process would play out.
Testa and Councilwoman Karla Brown had instead argued for the first listening session to be as soon as possible, with Testa recommending July 7 or 14, rather than holding an intermediary meeting focused solely on an action plan before hearing from residents.
In response to the council majority, City Manager Nelson Fialho and Police Chief David Swing created a three-point plan and proposed timetable for council consideration. Swing is less than two months on the job in Pleasanton, after moving over from the Morgan Hill Police Department where he was also police chief.
"The goal is to initiate a public discussion regarding community policing in Pleasanton in response to local and national calls for police reform," Fialho told the council Tuesday night.
"While our department has a longstanding and demonstrated success of accountability to the community it serves, both the city and the department do embrace the opportunity to discuss policing in our community and how it could possibly change," said Fialho, adding this is the first time in his 24 years working for the city that there has been such a conversation on local police policy.
The action plan -- ultimately approved by the council as recommended -- will begin with a first phase consisting of next week's "community listening session/council workshop."
"No formal action will be taken that evening … No staff presentation. No report. Instead, it would be an open-mic format that would enable the community to address the council regarding desired police reform locally, relay any direct experiences with the department or the city, or any other related topics," Fialho said.
"The primary goal is to create an environment that welcomes feedback and difficult conversations regarding policing in general, including in our community," he said.
The second phase of the plan will involve a review of existing PPD policies and procedures, including possibly a comprehensive discussion on use-of-force rules and the "21st Century Policing" initiative.
As recommended, a meeting on use-of-force policies is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 20 at 6:30 p.m. It would focus on the "8 Can't Wait" topics: chokeholds, shooting at moving vehicles, de-escalation, exhaust all alternatives before using force, warning before shooting, comprehensive reporting, duty to intervene when another officer uses inappropriate force and the "reasonableness" standard.
Another session would follow on Sept. 17 at 6:30 p.m. on the six pillars of 21st Century Policing: building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction, training and education, and officer safety and wellness.
Those meeting topics were designed as starting points, and the list could be expanded in the future as desired by the council, Fialho said.
The final phase would focus on setting near- and long-term policy goals for community policing in late 2020 or early 2021, along with discussions on allocation and reallocation of city funds to address community concerns.
Tuesday's special meeting with the lone agenda item drew nearly four-dozen citizen speakers -- in total, 60 residents submitted requests to speak but about a dozen dropped off the Zoom call before their name was called.
The public discussion, which was supposed to focus explicitly on the draft action plan, heard a few speakers talk about the proposal itself while most others expressed their views on overarching police reform or police advocacy topics.
The citizen comments over the 2-1/2 hours spanned the gamut, from ardent police supporters and opponents of so-called "defunding police" movements to people who commended PPD but saw clear areas for improvement to stauncher police reformists and residents who wanted city funds redirected away from PPD to other services.
"I feel the Pleasanton Police Department has been exceptional," resident John Sensiba said. "So I'm concerned that the conversation about defunding the police, on a national level, could be impacting our decisions at the local level … I believe the funding level for the police department is appropriate."
"Pleasanton isn't safe on accident. There's no shield that goes up on our borders that keeps violence and crime and harmful things out of our town. We're safe because our police force makes us safe," resident Jill Buck told the council.
"There's been three high-profile deaths at the hands of Pleasanton police: John Deming Jr., Shannon Estill and my son, Jacob Bauer. All three could have been avoided had the responding Pleasanton police officers acted differently," John Bauer said. "79% of the country believes that police brutality is a problem."
"These people are crying out for change because they care, because they feel compassion for those who are less privileged, for Black and brown people, for people with addiction problems, for mentally ill people," resident Isaac Elias said. "And I pray that that change will happen and that you will act with more urgency."
The council members generally held back on offering comments about specific policy points Tuesday night, saying they wanted to wait until after hearing from the community next week.
Brown, along with Testa, did open the discussion with brief statements trying to dispel emails and other rumors they said misrepresented their positions about police funding.
"There are people saying that I support defunding the police," Brown said later on. "I have never supported defunding the police. No one that I know of on the council has ever supported defunding the police."
Next week's community listening session is expected to start at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (July 21).
The council members will participate remotely via video conferencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents can watch online live and offer comments by phone, Zoom or email. To submit a speaker card or find out details on how to watch or stream the meeting, visit www.cityofpleasantonca.gov.