Community Oversight Task Force: Who we are |

Community Oversight Task Force: Who we are

Pauli Halstead and Lorraine Reich | Other Voices


“Citizens Oversight Committees,” or groups, are showing up in cities and towns around the country due to ongoing instances of brutality and excessive use of force by police officers. These groups are making sure law enforcement officers are properly trained and do not support or promote racism, sexism or xenophobia. Currently there is no external oversight or review of law enforcement agencies in Nevada County. Thus we found it necessary to form the “Community Oversight Task Force of Nevada County” (COTF). The committee is comprised of a small diverse group of concerned citizens whose main goals are to ensure our officers are properly trained and do not hold deep seated biases or prejudices — against people of color, the homeless, the poor, or the mentally ill.

Homelessness, poverty, and lack of access to adequate long-term health care and mental health treatment resulted in the tragic shooting incidents in which Sage Crawford and Gabriel Strickland lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement personnel. Failing to approach either victim with de-escalation techniques, or even with any recognition of their mental distress, the officers proceeded rapidly with the deadly use of force. In Sage’s case she was killed in front of her two small children, thus traumatizing them for life. Strickland was holding a toy Airsoft rifle.

On August 9, 2020, at a Black Lives Matter protest in Nevada City, we witnessed the abject failure by all law enforcement present to protect the peaceful demonstrators, enforce crowd control, or to carry out arrests on those committing assaults before their eyes. These facts suggest our law enforcement personnel may hold deeply entrenched prejudices, including racism. We are also concerned that law enforcement may be untrained in the Constitutionally protected exercise of First Amendment rights.

We suspect there are systemic forces in Nevada County which keep our officers stuck in the culture of too rapidly employing deadly force as the only solution to a mental health crisis. A “new paradigm” being established in California calls for a restructuring of police response, from the SWAT-Team mentality, to one that calls for a more humane crisis response. The new paradigm also mandates that law enforcement provide an appropriate humane response to poverty, homelessness and mental illness. Both homeless, Sage and Gabriel were killed while exhibiting signs of extreme mental distress.

“Existing law (California SB11) requires specified categories of law enforcement officers to meet training standards pursuant to courses of training certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). Existing law requires POST to include in its basic training course adequate instruction in the handling of persons with developmental disabilities or mental illness, or both. Existing law also requires POST to establish and keep updated a continuing education classroom training course relating to law enforcement interaction with developmentally disabled and mentally ill persons.”

COTF goals:

*Minimize uniformed law enforcement contact with people who need care so they don’t wind up dead. Do no harm!

*Eradicate terror of police by providing help during psychiatric and drug abuse emergencies.

*To create an alternative that connects people with community-based services and long-term assistance while reducing 911 response of law enforcement personnel.

*Train Dispatch personnel to recognize and promptly relay mental health crisis situations to Crisis Responders, Sheriff’s Deputies, and Police Officers, and Superiors, thus eliminating the potential for a deadly outcome.

* Shift the response to mental health crises, the homeless, and other nonviolent calls away from uniformed officers. We need responders trained in de-escalation techniques, social workers, drug counselors, licensed mental health experts, and emergency first-aid personnel.

*To develop enough community input to support the kinds of systemic reforms we believe are needed.

*Police should respond to criminal activity. Homelessness and mental illness are not criminal activities.

We wish to emphasize the Community Oversight Task Force of Nevada County is not “anti-police” nor do we support the notion of “defunding” the police. We could not have a properly functioning, nor a safe society, without our guardians of law and order. Hence, we approach this work in the belief that our law enforcement officers wish to serve and protect the public, but lack sufficient training with people experiencing a mental health crisis. It is our goal to ensure our officers are current with their training and hold their POST certifications. We further request the county employ crises response teams on a 24/7 basis to attend to the emergencies caused by widespread homelessness, poverty, addiction, and mental health crises.

Pauli Halstead and Lorraine Reich are members of the Community Oversight Task Force and the Peace and Justice Center of Nevada County.

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