As the conversation on defunding police continues on a national scale, activists in Pasadena have submitted their own “Bill of Rights” for public consideration.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, NDLON, along with the NAACP Pasadena Branch, created the bill after several cities across the country — including Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd died at the hands of police, San Francisco and Los Angeles — started looking for ways to reform their police departments after instances of brutality made national news.
“I hope that the (Pasadena) City Council and the political leaders of the city engage in a debate that is inclusive and in the hopes that it changes the culture of policing in our city,” said NDLON Co-Executive Director Pablo Alvarado.
The bill includes 12 action items ranging from establishing a civilian oversight commission, demilitarizing the police force and cutting the police budget by 20 percent. Alvarado hopes that the bill will compel the city to reevaluate policing practices and hopefully change them for the better.
While Alvarado believes Pasadena Chief of Police John Perez is a good person, he also knows that the department that Perez now controls has a history of violence that must be addressed.
“I believe the problem is that there are some deep-seated institutional practices that halt change,” Alvarado said. “The chief is a very decent man who is leading an institution that must go through radical transformations for it to be responsible.”
Alvarado and the bill refer to the instances of police brutality in the past few years, such as the beating of Christopher Bellew in late 2017 and the officer-involved shooting death of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade in 2012, among others.
“If we look at the community Bill of Rights as an equality statement,” said Perez, “the mass community change and everything we’re doing, as they say, requires a new paradigm… The good things we do in our community is a collective effort by everybody.”
Some items on the list, such as the reduction of use of force and the disbanding of the Special Enforcement Section known as the “gang unit,” have already been addressed by Perez. Additionally, the bill calls for the Police Department to ban the use of a carotid restraint, which was used in the death of Floyd on May 25. PPD banned the use of the restraint on June 7.
Across the city, acording to Perez, PPD’s use of force has been reduced by 50 percent. During the restructuring of the PPD earlier this year, Perez eliminated the Special Enforcement Section. The chief hopes people recognize the efforts that he and his department are making in order to reform the PPD.
“Nobody is paying attention to the fact that we eliminated the Special Enforcement Section,” said Perez. “We replaced it with a new community relations section and neighborhood services section that is about quality of life, chronic community issues, crime issues and expanding access to opportunity. These are all things we’re already doing but it’s just not getting a lot of attention.”
Even though there are items that Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek does not agree with, he believes that the bill is a great place to begin the conversation.
“I think it’s a really good start,” said Tornek. “I’ve called them (NDLON and the NAACP) and congratulated them on being so ambitious and staking out a whole bunch of issues for discussion. I think it is a great addition to the public dialogue that’s now under way.”
One of the items that Tornek does not support is the 20 percent cut of the police budget. According to Alvarado, the cut helps fund other human services, so hopefully, if there is a mental health emergency a social worker and not an armed police officer will be responding.
“We are going to do a thorough budget review to see how the spending is aligned with our overall budgetary process in terms of how much we spend on human services as opposed to police,” Tornek said. “I don’t support just lopping 20 percent off of the police budget or reducing the force by 20 percent. “
One of the items calls for the creation of a civilian oversight commission that works with an independent auditor to monitor the actions of the police department. While Tornek and Perez support the creation of a civilian oversight committee, Tornek believes the additional auditor, as proposed by Councilman Victor Gordo, his opponent in the November mayor’s election, would create redundancies and confusion.
“I think they are incompatible and it would create confusion,” Tornek said of the plan. Gordo intoduced his idea for an auditor general or an inspector general to oversee police as well as other city departments, including the City Council, in a recent column published in the online news site Pasadena Now.
“If what they mean is that the civilian oversight commission would have staff support, [then] I agree with that,” said Tornelk, who like Gordo once opposed having civilian oversight, opting for elected offficials on the council, acting as the Public Safety Committee, to oversee police.
“They have to have resources to be able to call on. But I think trying to impose a police auditor and an independent civilian oversight commission won’t work,” Tornek said.
Tornek imposed a deadline for the Public Safety Committee to send any proposed changes to the city council by August 10.
“I think we are very fortunate to have this chief in place at this time,” Tornek said of Perez, who worked his way up through the ranks since the mid-1980s to finally become chief in 2018. “He has the respect and admiration of the people inside the department and the public. Anyone that’s worked with him knows how sincere he is.” n