With input from the public and its own city leadership, Pleasanton's recent conversation highlighted the potential of redirecting funds from its police department to other community assets.
The focus on police reform comes naturally on the heels of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, but it extends to a look at the overall use of force and training of officers when handling other vulnerable populations — such as those suffering from mental health crises. The most recent city council meeting held June 16 saw various speakers step forward to voice their concerns about police brutality, not only on a national level, but also right within the city’s jurisdiction. Since 2015, the Pleasanton Police Department (PPD) has seen at least three deaths — John Deming, 2015; Shannon Estil, 2017; and Jacob Bauer, 2018 — after interaction with officers.
One of those voices of concern was Jacob’s father, John Bauer. He stated that, before his son’s death, he and his wife had reached out four times to the PPD to report their son had been suffering from mental health issues and battling substance abuse. The intent was “to alert them of Jacob’s condition and ask for their assistance and compassion should Jacob encounter the Pleasanton Police Department.” He further noted the day Jacob died on Aug. 1, 2018, was two days after a recent call to the PPD.
“The police department encountered Jacob walking on the sidewalk behind Jim’s Restaurant; they failed to de-escalate the situation and used excessive force on Jacob,” he said. “Jacob died of asphyxiation on the grass behind Jim's Restaurant. Jacob was tortured and killed by the Pleasanton Police. The Pleasanton Police must change their training tactics and put ‘protect and serve’ first and foremost in all of their community interactions. Police officers must be held accountable for the ramifications of their use of excessive force … Police misconduct can no longer be acceptable; bad actors should be held accountable and not shielded by higher ups, (district attorneys) or police unions; it’s time the police answer noncriminal calls with the intent to protect and serve every community member … rather than the mindset where they have been taught to think like they are entering a warzone … it is time for justice for Jacob.”
As an active member of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Pleasanton Councilmember Julie Testa noted she wanted to create a crisis response team with her city. Prior to approving the mid-year budget at the June 16 meeting — a budget that didn't reflect reducing the force spending — both Testa and Mayor Jerry Thorne asked the city manager if the council would have the power to alter the police budget, typically $30 million, at any time. City Manager Nelson Fialho confirmed the council did have that power.
“I think we’re looking at how we can revisit some of the work the department does and how it can be kept a priority with the funding constraints we’re working with,” Testa said, further stating she didn’t believe officers operated with malice, but rather ingrained training and department culture that could use improvement.
She went on to add that while mental health professionals seem to function within 9 to 5 timeframe boundaries, for many experiencing a crisis, it rarely happens within business hours — a sentiment Tri-Valley police officers have also echoed with regard to potential crisis teams and their limited availability.
“But of course, we still have medical emergency medical response (EMR) teams,” she said. “We need to have (EMR) trained and ready at those critical points as well, and dispatch needs to be in the habit of recognizing EMR as an option (to respond to mental health crises).”
Pleasanton Voters, a local group that strives to educate voters in the city, joined the movement calling for change. The group’s website landing page currently displays a photo of a recent peaceful protest.
“The mission of Pleasanton Voters is three-fold: to protect the city’s urban growth boundary, to preserve ridgelines and open spaces, and to retain the best qualities of our city for future generations. Best qualities must include equity and justice for all Pleasanton residents,” said Kelly Cousins, Pleasanton Voters spokesperson. “Local police policy is an issue that will come before the community and the city council soon, and we will share the information about how residents can get involved in this open discussion with our database, as well as encourage voting as a powerful tool to effect change.”
Pleasanton Voters hopes to see a transparent community dialogue on police policies as a way to review areas for improvement, Cousins added.
“We hope a diverse group of individuals will apply for local positions of influence on city commissions and committees in order to seek change and further influence the policies supported by the city,” she said.
New to the role, PPD Chief David Swing said his department is committed to serving all members of the community.
"We look forward to their feedback during future listening sessions and public meetings,” Swing said. “We understand there is a need for additional mental health resources and fully support solutions that strengthen our creative and nontraditional responses to those in crisis. Through constructive engagement with our community and the city council, we will better understand policing expectations and how those expectations are met through an appropriate level of funding.”