At last week’s Half Moon Bay City Council meeting, Councilmembers Harvey Rarback and Joaquin Jimenez brought an ordinance on policing policy that I helped them co-write. As a result, those policies will be heard by the entire council for appropriate action at our next City Council meeting on May 18.
The three of us penned the ordinance in an attempt to spark an aggressive push to take immediate action to protect both serving San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies and, equally importantly, our at-risk populations from unnecessary harm. The ordinance does this by passing specific laws that dictate how, in certain situations, law enforcement officers must act within the city limits. Every single policy exists because someone, somewhere, was killed in a way that the ordinance seeks to prevent in the future.
We will be asking the council at the next meeting to direct the city attorney to bring back a set of policing policies, whether binding or non-binding, within 45 days for both the council and the public to consider for enactment. I am asking you here for your support in this endeavor.
As our effort shows, this doesn’t have to be a yearslong or even monthslong process. Our proposed policies are simple and are built on a foundation of common sense.
The overall focus of the ordinance is the minimization of high-risk encounters between law enforcement and the public, and, when those encounters do happen, to maximize the potential for all parties to survive the encounter. This is not meant as a penalty or a punishment of law enforcement; rather it is intended to protect both officers and the public equally.
The first thing we looked at was pretextual or routine traffic stops, or, more simply, traffic stops for things that have nothing to do with the safety of the public. This includes things like missing or expired registration tags, taillights or other lights that are out, tinted windows or things hanging from your rearview mirror, cracked windshields, a failure to signal a lane change, or even weaving slightly in your lane. None of these items protect the public in any way, and all of them are frequently used by law enforcement to profile and stop minorities unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We have had two cases in Half Moon Bay in which people were killed by deputies who rushed in without backup, without understanding the tactical situation on the ground, and without any plan whatsoever. Yet in both cases there was no reason to do this, and in fact the presence of the deputy is what escalated a mostly stable situation into an unstable and fatal mess. Our proposed policies seek to prevent similar outcomes in the future by implementing several important changes:
First, they would require that officers wait for backup before initiating contact with a person who may be mentally ill or who may present a risk of harm to themselves and others.
Second, they would require deputies to have a concrete duty to preserve life by, where possible and appropriate, retreating and taking cover prior to using deadly force.
Our proposed policies restrict the use of Tasers on unarmed people and it would also ban officers from shooting at or from a moving car. We hope everyone can agree that is a really good law to have on the books.
Chokeholds and prone restraints of the type that killed George Floyd and Mario Gonzalez just a month ago in Alameda would also be banned and, finally, body-worn cameras would be mandated before engaging with any member of the public. No more “oops, I forgot” excuses after someone has been killed.
We believe that the proposed laws are in the public interest and are humane in intent. We understand that the Sheriff is likely to oppose our efforts despite the fact that these are policies that are supported by the vast majority of our community. Yet there is nothing shocking about the ordinance, and there is no practical reason it cannot be enacted in substantially similar form in very short order. What is shocking to consider is why haven’t these rules of engagement been in place all along to ensure the safety of officers and the general public alike? Why would the Sheriff oppose such obviously beneficial policies that place his own deputies at less risk and give them a less frantic workload as well?
I hope you will read over the proposed ordinance, and that you will attend the City Council meeting via Zoom at 7 p.m. on May 18 to advocate for the council to direct that the city attorney bring back a legally sustainable set of policies within 45 days.
We have a chance to make positive changes that will make our community a better place to live for everyone, and it is past time to do so.
David Eblovi lives in Half Moon Bay.