The third Law Enforcement Ad Hoc committee meeting held via Zoom Saturday, Aug. 15, was well attended and looked at the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets (CAHOOTS) program as a possible model for Imperial Beach.

The committee has been formed to explore ways to cut down the services of the Sheriff’s Department, since it’s the single most expensive item in the city’s budget, and instead provide alternative ways to respond to non-emergency calls and also consider use of force alternatives.

The committee is headed by Mayor Pro Tem Paloma Aguirre and Councilman Ed Spriggs and has two consultants, Mike Gray and Dr. Keisha Clark. Based on the findings of the committee so far, an outline will be prepared for the next meeting in two weeks. The final findings will be presented to the council at the Sept. 16 meeting.

City Manager Andy Hall recently met with an official of the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon. CAHOOTS was created in 1989 and is a community policing program that responds to non-emergency calls like non injury accidents, homelessness, and mental health and includes crisis counseling. The Eugene Police Department contracts with a non-profit agency to provide support to the officers with CAHOOTS. Emergency and non-emergency calls first go to the police department and then if deemed appropriate, CAHOOTS workers are dispatched.

CAHOOTS responds to calls in a van with a medic and a crisis worker. Hall said the Police lieutenant from Eugene he met with, is willing to join one of the Ad Hoc meetings and answer questions. Hall explained that the city of Eugene is different than Imperial Beach, which is close to a metropolitan area and there are different issues of an urban nature. CAHOOTS holds regular meetings and has an oversight program. The program in Eugene was not created for financial reasons but to augment the police service. A future program in Imperial Beach, if implemented, will need to partner with county services such as South Bay Community Services and County Health Department.

Hall and Assistant City Manager Erika Cortez have met with the Sheriff’s Department Commander Brown and Lt. Marquez to find specific information on use of force and implementing new statistics gathering like keeping track of pointing (any time a weapon or taser is removed from its holster) for the city. “They’re wiling to help us understand the local data,” said Hall. At the last meeting use of force was discussed and Hall pointed out that the Sheriff’s does not consider using restraints as use of force. As also discussed at the last meeting is a misconnect between what the Sheriff’s Department and the community perceive as use of force.

Hall has looked into a written report for best practices for community policing which is a balanced resource between social programs and all enforcements that can be used to shape a program in Imperial Beach.

Both Aguirre and Spriggs suggested continuing the law enforcement meetings, possibly as a board or in a less formal way or an oversight committee.

During the public input session, it was suggested to have data on current use of force on the city’s website so it’s easily accessible to the public. Another resident talked about hostility on the part of the Sheriff’s deputies when they are filmed. It was pointed out that it’s important when filming not to be too close to the face or distracting or interfering.

“It’s an area for training…they are in the public eye…it’s a natural reaction not to like that invasion of space, but for public safety this is kind of the norm nowadays,” said Spriggs, who added that this could be an area for discussion and training and that negative reactions can create a great divide. He suggested deputies could walk their beat or ride bikes and get to know the community. His wish is for everyone to feel safer, have less crime and for a better work relationship between the community and the deputies.

Another residents spoke of the importance of deputies getting to know the community. “… they may be aware of certain things and know how to respond,” she said.

A couple fo speakers were opposed to reducing the number of deputies to cut costs. The salaries of deputies was also questioned since they range in the $200,000, but Hall clarified that those numbers are not the actual salaries because they include health benefits, retirement benefits, and other essential costs that go along with the job. Hall reminded the attendees that the City of Imperial Beach has the second lowest paid city employees in the county.

Spriggs said the group is still waiting for data from the Sheriff’s Department on the of emergency or non-emergency call based on ethnicity and residency and hopes to receive it soon.

The next Law Enforcement Ad Hoc Committee will be held via zoom on Aug.29 at 9 a.m., visit YouTube under: “LER Ad Hoc Community Outreach Meeting 3” or visit https://www.imperialbeachca.gov/index.asp?SEC=341DE733-2834-4EAB-8BD5-785E693EDF76.

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