In light of the recent national protests against racism and police violence, many people are calling for re-imagining the role of policing in our communities. How do you envision applying this to Flagstaff?
I believe that many problems in our community are better addressed through safe and stable housing and mental health services. There’s national evidence and programs demonstrating that when an individual’s basic needs are met, they’re less likely to require emergency services, including the police. I would like to explore how adopting a “housing first” model would work in Flagstaff to decrease costs associated with reliance on emergency services. I would also like to explore what resources it would take to have a trained mental health professional respond to emergency calls where appropriate.
The City Council should have a larger discussion about these issues that have yet to be adequately addressed. We need a Council willing to look more carefully at alternative policing models like those in Eugene, Oregon or Camden, NJ and analyze what changes would mean to the budget. These alternative models could help inform conversations about what is best for Flagstaff, and navigate the situation to create meaningful policy changes that respond to the concerns being raised about the status quo.
In re-imagining the role of morality within justice, we need to look far beyond the institution itself. A closer look inside the ideology of punitive justice may prove that restorative justice could be a more humane alternative. When living within a system that favors authoritarianism over egalitarianism we have to approach the reformation of law enforcement philosophically. How many misdemeanor traffic tickets will it cost to keep our new courthouse operational? What if we treated mental-health, substance abuse and homelessness with social services instead of incarceration? Is it possible to fund our courts with violators committing corporate-corruption, environmental-warfare, and ecological-injustices? What if we lead with social justice first? These are the type of questions I like to ask.
I have a future agenda item request pending to address this very issue. It has the support of the other Council members, and Council has directed staff to bring this forward as soon as possible. Part of my request is to have a conversation about how other providers could be used when an armed police officer is not really needed. I feel the need to protect everyone’s civil liberties and rights. I absolutely will not tolerate police violence. I also want the police and the duties they perform to be done in the most efficient and sensitive way.
With police violence, an officer bringing a lethal weapon into any situation will automatically escalate things. I’m not saying police officers should be put in harm’s way but there is also something to be said about bullying and abusive practices employed by those who are sworn to protect and serve all in our community. We can re-allocate funds from militarizing the police into more appropriate social work. The CAHOOTS model in Eugene, OR looks promising as it puts an emphasis on addressing the underlying issues that lead to crime rather than using an approach that criminalizes particular groups and individuals.
Since I was elected in 2016 Councils made great strides to help our officers in doing their job in that we’ve hired more police for we had the same amount of officers on the job since 2006, we gave them a merit pay raise for they hadn’t had a raise in over a decade, we hired police aides to alleviate the workload of sworn officers and their pension is 100% funded. The Council had discussions in what are the alternative resources that may not need a sworn officer response? At the end of the day it came down to dollars that we didn’t have to carry out a different path to a response. So we rely on our social service provider partnerships with responses. We are going to have future community conversation on the topic that I’m looking forward to the discussion.
For decades, police departments around the country have been tasked with an excessive list of duties that could be better performed by other departments. Heavily funded police departments divert much needed money away from education, health care, housing, and other critical departments. In short, there’s a lack of investment in human needs and an over investment in policing. In Flagstaff, police should continue to receive adequate funding to pursue their primary task of responding to crimes. Other emergencies, such as health care emergencies, domestic disputes, etc., should be handled by health care professionals, social workers, etc.
The conversation surrounding changing the culture of policing in Flagstaff remains crucial and gives us an opportunity to learn how to do things better. I believe that our community strives for a deeply engaged environment and wants to see our citizens come together in problem solving while participating in these tough conversations. Our community is looking at a political shift in our police force and looking at our intervention programs. I see the value of reaching out to the public and beginning these hard, yet important conversations. There is always room for improvement.