By John Crowder
Questions and answers on law and order dominated the proceedings at the October 28 meeting of the Antioch City Council. Several residents spoke during the time set aside for public comments, most addressing student violence, both in and out of local schools. A few of the speakers who addressed the council had also spoken at the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) board meeting that took place last week. In addition, the council heard a report on the status of Measure C, and actions being taken to stem the violence at Deer Valley Plaza (DVP).
Comments generally followed two themes. One was that innocent students, and even adults, are being bullied, harassed, and are not being afforded adequate protection, from violent students who are out of control. The other theme was that the students who are acting out and causing the violence need the help of the community in order to redirect their actions. Some speakers touched on both themes.
Gil Murillo, who called for the removal of Principal Ken Gardner from Deer Valley High School (DVHS) at the last two AUSD board meetings due to a lack of confidence in his leadership, was the first to address the issue of student violence. “I’m here again to talk about the safety for our kids in the schools. It’s really hard to see 8-year old, 12-year old kids, being fearful of going to school,” he said. After acknowledging that the council was, “working on some programs with the school district,” he said, “but we really need some results sooner [rather] than later.” He said some kids were so scared that they were even dropping out of middle school. “I plead [with] you to visit a school board meeting,” he concluded, “your words speak louder than mine.”
Dorothy Marshall spoke after Murillo, saying she came forward because she was, “really concerned about our community.” Referencing DVHS, she said, “We have quite a few problems,” and went on to call for community help to resolve them. She said she sees students, “shooting dice, smoking marijuana, fighting,” and that, “they need to be introduced to programs that enlighten and enrich them.” With the police there, she said, “We’re just filling the jails with the students [who do] not have to go there if they’re shown the love and help they need.” She also said, “The mayor can’t do it by himself, we need help from everyone.” She volunteered her time to help, saying senior citizens, of which she is one, have a lot to offer, and could teach canning and quilting, among other skills, in order to help both the senior citizens and the troubled students feel useful.
Cindy Carter-Hodges said, “I’m here as a concerned citizen about my kids, they’re being bullied. There’s a serious problem going on.” “My child’s safety is in jeopardy each time I send her to school, and it seems like the officials at school, basically aren’t concerned,” she continued. “There is a mob of girls that continue to bully my daughter,” she said, referencing problems at Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS). “I don’t feel like the school district or the police department is really doing anything to resolve this issue,” she concluded, “and each day it’s getting worse.”
Victoria Lenihan concurred with Carter-Hodges, referring to an attack she said took place at Black Diamond on September 26 by a girl who had previously been expelled from another school.
“[BDMS administrative staff] pulled my daughter…out of the last period of school for three days, and said, ‘your daughter’s not safe, you need to come pick her up,’” Lenihan said. “I said, ‘my daughter can’t miss school each day, for a girl that has been expelled. This isn’t fair.’” She also said that on October 26, when she went to pick up her daughter at school, “we were attacked by 50 children.”
Lenihan said the children from Black Diamond have even come to her house and tried to kick down the door, that some have been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon for throwing rocks at her head, and that some of the mothers of these students have come to her house and threatened her life, and the lives of her children, and continue to do so over social media. She also said that the school had refused to honor restraining orders that had been issued.
“These schools have let down me and my children. I don’t know what else to do,” she added.
Mayor Harper responded to Lenihan, asking her to give her information to Captain Tammany Brooks, of the Antioch Police Department (APD), who was in the audience, waiting to give a presentation to the council. Harper also called for the community to come together to deal with the violence issue.
“We’re in this together guys,” he said, “we’ve got to work these problems out together.”
Jeffery Swietlik, a teacher at DVHS, was more positive about the matter than other speakers.
“These are good kids,” he said. “These students need a lot of love. I’m not excusing in any way, some of the behavior that’s happened inside Taco Bell and McDonald’s, it’s not excusable, but it is forgivable. I ask everyone to bear in mind the maturation of our children is the highest priorit.”
Other speakers also spoke on the two themes, some decrying the lack of safety at the schools, and others calling for more community involvement to help troubled students. One speaker, Velma Wilson, said that she had personally seen parents drop their kids off at DVP in order to start fights. “These are parents that are letting their kids fight like they are banshees,” she said.
Mayor Harper addressed the violence during the time set aside for Mayor’s Comments, saying there had been a recent meeting with fourteen people participating to address the issues at and around DVHS and DVP in particular. He again called for the community to come together to deal with the problem. Harper relayed how he has been spending time at DVP engaging students.
Measure C Status Report
At the conclusion of his remarks, Harper said that Captain Brooks would be giving a presentation on the status of Measure C. Harper also said that a lot of the information people had been receiving recently about the measure were, “flat out lies.”
Captain Brooks and Michelle Fitzer, Administrative Services Director, provided the Measure C status report.
After explaining that Measure C is a half-cent sales tax, Fitzer said that collections of receipts only started in April of this year. The measure is expected to generate $4.3 million in general fund revenue annually, and there is a citizen’s oversight committee that has been meeting regularly to ensure that the money collected is spent only on police services and code enforcement.
Fitzer said that 100% of the anticipated revenue is allocated to police and code enforcement. As of October 14, about $1.7 million has been collected (about six months worth of collections).
Fitzer said that as of October 15, one additional contract Code Enforcement Officer has been hired. From October 2013 to October 2014, police department staffing has increased by almost 20%. Sworn Police Officers actual headcount increased from 76 to 91, while total police department staffing increased from 97 to 116.
“We are recruiting as quickly as we can,” Fitzer said. The budgeted targets of Sworn Officer staffing are 97 by June 30, 2015, and 104 by June 30, 2016. Five additional new Officers are in process to be hired in November.” But, she said, with reference to people who question why it is taking so long to get additional Officers, “We cannot make people apply, and we cannot stop people from leaving.”
Fitzer also told the council that the state had recently provided a grant to help fund five additional Officers, and APD is doing continuous recruitment.
With respect to crime statistics, she said that, from January to September, 2014, compared to the same period last year, violent crime is down 9.8%.
In response to a question by council member Monica Wilson, Fitzer said that Antioch received its first check for Measure C funds in June, and it wasn’t until September that the full allotment began to be received.
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha asked when traffic patrols would begin again. Brooks said the Chief would make that determination for such special programs. Brooks also said three priorities of Chief Cantando were, “areas with increased violent crime, schools, and traffic.”
Council member Tony Tiscareno pointed out that, “a good number of officers were hired over the last few months.”
Mayor Harper noted that city crime rankings always run a year behind, and that current ratings reflect data from before implementation of Measure C.
Brooks also noted the success of specialized details in removing criminals from the street.
Brooks specifically addressed the problems that have been occurring at DVP. He said that representatives of several groups, including Probation, the district attorney’s office, AUSD, the school board, APD, and DVP management, have all been meeting to resolve problems at the Plaza.
Brooks said that, from the police department perspective, they are looking at “enforcement actions that can be taken. We are responding on a daily basis, when calls for service allow, and providing security for the area, and taking a zero tolerance approach to any criminal activity that occurs. We’ve also streamlined the process of reporting people that engage in criminal activity, both to the D.A.’s office and to Juvenile Probation.” He said other steps included Juvenile Probation looking into getting a “stay-away order,” from the plaza, as part of their stipulation if a person is on current probation. DVP management is looking to increase and improve security and upgrade their video surveillance system. The school district has talked about after-school programs, conflict resolution groups responding out to the school, and educating and informing parents as to the problems that are occurring.
The next city council meeting is scheduled for Thursday, November 13, 2014. The meeting was rescheduled from the Tuesday of that week so that it would not conflict with Veteran’s Day. Meetings are held in the Antioch City Council chambers, 200 H Street, and begin at 7:00 p.m.