Through biting criticism, MV City Council votes unanimously to form police advisory board

STORY BY CEDRIC CHAN AND ALLISON HUANG, PHOTO BY GIL RUBINSTEIN

The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously last night to implement a “Public Safety Advisory Board” (PSAB) to oversee the Police Department, following a recommendation from the Ad-Hoc Subcommittee meeting on Race, Equity and Inclusion (REI). 

The PSAB will be made up of up to seven members, each appointed by the Council, tasked with analyzing police data and facilitating conversations with the public, then making recommendations to reform the Department. Like other advisory bodies, the PSAB will solely provide recommendations to the Council, which will ultimately have to vote in any changes. 

During public comment, over a dozen community members rebuked the recommendation; most called for a short-term body with a clearer mandate, citing the Los Altos Citizens’ Police Task Force as a successful example after Los Altos City Council approved its recommendation to remove student resource officers (SROs) from campuses. 

Mountain View High School student Elizabeth Greene, who worked with the Los Altos task force, extolled its success while criticizing the PSAB’s lack of policy-making power.

“We got to sit on the call and sob with relief and joy,” she said of Los Altos City Council’s decision. “And yet we come to Mountain View, and we get to go back to these high schoolers and tell them, ‘Oh, by the way, Mountain View City Council, they’re not doing anything. They don’t care.’ Create something with a spine.”

Council Member Lucas Ramirez voiced support for a longer-term body over a short-term task force, saying that the issues that needed to be resolved exceed the scope of a task force’s abilities.

“This is a conversation that will take a long time to fully evaluate and digest, and it’s not something that I think we can do in a short period of time,” he said. “Another thing that has come up is that the body has a vague and undefined mission, and I don’t agree with that. It’s pretty clear the scope of work that we’re talking about. As with any other advisory body, the body itself should determine its work plan.”

Ramirez added that although the Los Altos Police Task Force’s recommendation was adopted, it still had to go through Council approval and had the same lack of authority that community members criticized the PSAB for.

Other council members, many speaking of their own experiences on advisory bodies, echoed Ramirez’s opinions, several citing the Council’s history of following staff recommendations.

“When you say that this body that we’re going to make is powerless, you do not know how Mountain View works,” Council Member John McAlister said. “So make sure that when you’re coming down on us, you know the whole story of what we’re trying to do.”

Council members Lisa Matichak and Alison Hicks expressed interest in exploring a short-term body, but ultimately supported the recommendation after seeing a lack of support from the rest of the Council.

Several members of the public also expressed disappointment and frustration at the Council’s handling of police reform, particularly in receiving reports from the Human Relations Committee (HRC), which has collected qualitative stories about community interactions with the police since August. 

Prior to the vote last night, the HRC gave an abridged presentation on its findings, which numerous members of the public found to be an inadequate exploration of the data. Vice Mayor Ellen Kamei, however, responded by saying that there were multiple other presentations the HRC gave on its findings that several council members had attended previously.

Comments became hostile at times as community members attacked council members specifically. McAlister in particular was criticized after pressing City Principal Analyst Melvin Gaines, who gave the recommendation, on how the Mountain View Police Department is doing in comparison to nearby cities.

“I was trying to put that in context with other cities around us so that you will learn that Mountain View, even with its faults, is a good city and has a good police department,” McAlister responded. “But you don’t want to listen.”

Another member of the public called Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga out while she was “looking down and not at me,” saying that the Council was not taking the issue seriously; Abe-Koga raised a notepad after the comment was made.

“I’m a woman of color, and when I’m yelled at by other people, especially people who are not of color, I question whether that’s an implicit bias,” Abe-Koga said in response. “As much as I appreciate the public engagement with this issue, the one thing I’ve been disappointed in is — I would call this implicit bias — there’s been a lot of skepticism here. And I would like to ask folks to open up your mind.”

The Council’s comments reflected an optimistic view of the PSAB as a means for facilitating critical communication, emphasizing the need to build trust and community between residents and the police. 

“One of the cries that we heard this summer is, ‘Don’t silence me. Hear me. See me,’ and I think this Council has been working on that and trying to tackle that,” Kamei said. “This is not just the Council being performative. I feel like this is one of those steps in bringing real tangible change and action.”

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