The city council was presented with a report of the Law Enforcement Ad Hoc Committee during its meeting on Sept. 16. The committee was formed on June 17, 2020 with the goal to gather information on three topics: use of force and practice by the Sheriff’s Department; financial impact of the Sheriff’s contract with the city; alternative ways to handle non-emergency calls.

The city spends $11,421,610 in public safety which includes the Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department, Lifeguard Services and Animal Control. The law enforcement expenditure is $7,594,354 which makes up 36.4% of the total city budget. On average beach cities spend 26.8 % of the budget on law enforcement while other staid cities spend 30.6 %.

The committee also looked at racial disparity. Based on 2019 data received by the Sheriff’s Department on Racial and Identity Profiling stops perceived by race, Whites made up 53.04 %, Hispanics/Latino(a) 29.59 % and Blacks/African Americans 8.16 %. More data by the Sheriff’s Department on officer involved shootings between 2000 and 2014 showed that they involved Whites with 38.3 5 %, Hispanics at 32.6 % and Blacks at 15.4 %. In jail population Blacks also came in third behind Whites and Hispanics. The city received data from 2012 for Imperial Beach arrests per 10,000 people. The total arrests were 518, Black arrests 833, White 645 and other 128.

The committee also identified a list of best practices they would like to see put in place which include giving the community a “direct, ongoing say in police practices”; “commit to community policing in mission statements, strategic plans and leadership development programs”; “Reconcile with the community through informal and unstructured quarterly meetings.”

Alternative policing methods like Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) based in Eugene,Oregon was discussed. That program uses community service officers and community policing for non-emergency calls which is a model that could be adopted in the city. Additional models and structures like Mediation, Mobile Crisis Response Teams made up of trained residents, and patrolling neighborhoods were some of them. Diversity Training, Microaggression, Mental Health First Aid and Cultural Competence were also suggested. A job description for a community service officer was also listed. A community service officer with a compensation of about $86,394.18 would offer a saving of 44% compared to a deputy whose salary ranges between $65, 261.30 to $108,290.00.

In the subject specific findings it was stated that the current data available from the Sheriff’s Department needs improvement. The practices of curbing, detaining and pointing are “offensive intrusions that may not be necessary” and need to be reported in the data. The committee was headed by Pro Tem Mayor Paloma Aguirre and Councilmember Ed Spriggs. During each of the five meetings held over 90 days, community members were encouraged and allowed to speak, to express their opinions and share stories and comments.

“There is a lot of diversity in our community… a side effect [of the meetings] is that everyone has a little bit better perspective than going into the process, more understanding and empathy,” said Spriggs.

During public comment there were a mix of comments on both sides of the issue warning against cutting down the number of deputies and the large amount spent on law enforcement.

During council comment Aguirre spoke about the need to reduce the expenses of law enforcement. “The cost of the Sheriff’s is unsustainable even if IB passes the [sales tax increase] ballot measure in the fall, it would cover us for a year or two…we have to be creative on how to maintain safety…reallocate resources and invest in youth…seniors…sports,” she said. Aguirre also emphasized the importance of thinking outside the box, use community programs like CAHOOTS and continue the committee to get a solid grasp of the data.

Councilmember Robert Patton agreed with the suggestion of more training for the deputies. “There’s room for improvements like any other profession. As a first respondent (lifeguard) for 30 years I worked hand in hand with fire and law enforcement…if someone broke into my house I’m calling them,” he said.

Councilmember Mark West liked the idea of community policing since he said 60 percent of all calls last year were non-emergency. “I’d really like to see we look at alternative models..,” he said.

He also brought up the example of the Pier and Skatepark where he would like to see a person there at all times without a gun or body armor, just old fashioned community policing. West would like to see the creation of a human relations commission, removing politics out of it to “foster mutual respect and understanding.” He suggested working with other cities that are in similar situations, like Lemon Grove, and engaging in an open discussion about the Sheriff’s contract.

Spriggs said the city doesn’t have enough data from the Sheriff’s Department including use of force and more is needed. He pointed out that he and Aguirre, who are respectively African American and Latina, are not biased against the Sheriff’s Department. “We appreciate the services of the Sheriff’s Department …we don’t want a reduction of boots on the ground…public safety is the number one priority,” he said. “We’ve done as well as we could with the resources we had.”

Mayor Serge Dedina praised the work of the Sheriff’s Department over the years cleaning up Imperial Beach of career criminals, getting rid of drug houses, and crystal meth houses. “This is a more long term process…” he said.

In other business:

A proclamation in honor of Robert Stabenow for his service to the city was presented for his work as Marine Safety Chief and serving the community since 1984.

The city current eviction moratorium ordinance as a result of COVID-19 for non-payment of rents by households and businesses expires Sept. 30. Governor Gavin Newsom on Aug. 31, 2020 enacted AB 3088 Tenant, Homeowner and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020 and no COVID related evictions can be carried out. This law will last until Feb. 1, 2021. Tenants have to file a declaration of hardship and pay at least 25 % of the rent due accrued between Sept. 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021. The city will update the website to provide the facts about the state law and other information.

Assistant City Manager Erika Cortez held a presentation on face covering in public places and public property. In addition to discussing who should wear a mask and where, the presentation included enforcement and outreach. The ordinance is expanding wearing of masks on parks, the pier and trails. Disagreement among the council members came up when “opportunity for compliance, followed by a warning, and finally a citation, only if necessary” was discussed.

Patton pointed out problems with citations, and asked who would be in charge of the enforcement and ticketing. It was suggested code enforcement officers could be in charge and discussing the issue with the Sheriff’s Department and whether deputies would be willing to enforce mask wearing. Patton said he agreed with everything but the citations.

West said he was hesitant but torn at the same time. “We need to have masks but if we can’t get the Sheriff’s to help I don’t believe we can put code enforcement officers. We shouldn’t pass it until we’ve have 100 percent agreement from the Sherif’s that they are going to support it,” he said.

Aguirre said she has received many emails from her constituents to take stronger action on masks and be more clear.

Spriggs said he would like to see enforcement because there is no point in enforcing an ordinance with no teeth. He wants to bring infection numbers down and see the city take a stronger stance on mask wearing.

Aguirre made a motion to amend the language of the ordinance and require people to wear mask at all times while seated at restaurants, while paying and only removing it while eating. A motion was carried with No by Patton and West and Yes by Aguirre, Spriggs and Dedina.

A resolution amending the employment agreement between the city and the city manager with a fiscal impact of $4,540 per year was carried unanimously.

The next city council meeting will be held virtually on Oct. 21 at 5 p.m.

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