Nearly 100 residents weighed in about the overall performance and service of the Pleasanton Police Department at a virtual community listening session on Tuesday, following a recent spate of public discussions on policing practices that were triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
The open-mic format gave residents the opportunity to directly address both the Pleasanton City Council and Police Chief David Swing, who joined the force just two months ago, about issues like defunding the department, racial bias and profiling, developing civilian oversight and responding to service calls for mental health crises.
City leaders did not respond to any of the speakers; in total, 98 people shared their thoughts and experiences of interacting with Pleasanton police Tuesday evening.
A good number of participants expressed strong support for and praised the department for their work, but many others said that change is needed, particularly in the area of responding to calls for people in a mental health crisis. Multiple speakers requested that police officers undergo more mental health training and urged the city to invest in additional resources for that cause.
John and Rose Bauer, whose adult son Jacob died after being restrained by Pleasanton police officers in 2018, said their concerns for Jacob's safety in the month before his death were "minimized" as "small" and that "we were laughed at by one officer."
"Another officer came to our home and stated that Jacob had it too easy, he needs to hit rock bottom, we should start his descent by evicting him from our home," John Bauer said. "When our family really needed the services of PPD, the response was always, 'If he's not a threat to himself or others, nothing we can do.'"
Rose Bauer said the department assured her and John that their officers were "so highly trained in de-escalation and no harm will come to Jacob."
"Within a month, Jacob was dead as a result of an encounter with PPD. The officers failed to use a single de-escalation tactic," Rose said.
Xiaofang Chen, co-founder and president of the Alan Hu Foundation, told the council that people experiencing mental illness are treated as criminals too often and "need emergency mental health medical expertise and compassion, they do not need more enforcement."
Chen -- whose teenage son Alan died by suicide several years ago and had multiple police encounters resulting from his struggles with major depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder -- said the typical law enforcement response was degrading.
"Each time he was traumatized; in one of those crises, Alan was on the Golden Gate Bridge feeling extremely lonely and didn't know what to do," Chen said. "He needed a mental health counselor's guidance and compassion. However, when the police officers found him, they had cuffed him, questioned him in a small room, threw him in the back of the police patrol car and brought him to the hospital."
"Alan felt that he was treated like a criminal and was greatly humiliated and traumatized. Later he said he'd rather die than go to the hospital again," she added.
Laura Danielson, who has experience as a school nurse, said also the response to calls at the local high schools where she worked was lackluster.
"The kids were treated to cops putting them in handcuffs and ambulances being called and them being taken away," Danielson said. "I hope that since we're talking about things we can do with the police department, that we can look at the resource officer position and not let the high schools abdicate their responsibilities for treating mental health issues."
"Oftentimes kids were put in handcuffs before their parents even arrived at the school, and I can't imagine how traumatizing that is for those kids years and years later, and how that would make you feel about a police officer," she concluded.
Heather Truro said the community needs to "look at the amount of mental health issues being brought up" and also "become a leader by taking the initiative to fine-tune and get those '21st Century Policing' pieces in place that we don't have currently."
Truro also called for putting "a special attention on civilian oversight" and noted the anecdotes shared that evening. "We need to make sure that there is oversight on these policies, you can see there is public interest in it," Truro said. "We need to make sure that if there are complaints, that that can be raised to an issue. No one can police themselves, no industry, no nothing, and it's the same for police."
Making sure to not overlook "the magnitude of why we need proposals in the first place" should also be a priority, said Aryan Ohri.
Ohri stated that "Pleasanton is a great department" but warned officials that "they can become a bad department and there's nothing stopping them."
"We don't really have enough legal barriers," Ohri said. "They could become the next Minneapolis. It's about protecting our rights and our freedoms, and really the only thing preventing them from doing that is a promise.
"I don't want my life guaranteed by a promise; I want my life guaranteed by a law," he added.
Though many residents said they supported defunding the police, Go Green Initiative founder Jill Buck cautioned that doing so could endanger the quality of service that many have come to expect.
"One of the things that I'm noticing is, if we're going to keep the four-minute response time or better, defunding our police force would make it very difficult to keep the response time we all enjoy and expect," Buck said. "This level of staffing and this level of budget is very appropriate, and I hope we do not take any action to defund our police department."
Joshua Rodriguez said he appreciated the police presence during recent demonstrations, adding that he was "able to be in peace that I was going to be safe because police officers of Pleasanton were going to be watching over my home."
"I am a Hispanic, I have never been profiled, I have never been treated differently because of my skin color or how I look," Rodriguez said. "I have a great amount of respect for our police officers. I am so grateful that you dedicate your time and you risk your lives every single day for us. Please do not cut back on any budget."
Another meeting on use-of-force policies has been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 20 at 6:30 p.m. That event will focus on the "8 Can't Wait" topics such as chokeholds and de-escalation, among others.