Payton Perspective: Antioch Council must show need for police reforms and also offer proposals to fight, reduce crime

Friday night special council meeting premature; Mayor Thorpe’s and council’s reforms should be “based on findings” and wait for Bridging the Gap report

APD needs to improve communication with council, public

Make new aspirational goal to be “The safest city in California with over 100,000 population”

For the past year, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe has been pushing for police reforms in our city. Last year he announced his support for those from the 8 Can’t Wait nationwide campaign, and five of his own. Thorpe’s latest list of six reforms may sound good, and while I support or don’t have a problem with some of them, he’s yet to provide any data to support the need for most of them in Antioch. Also, at the same time, neither Thorpe nor any of the council members have offered any proposals to increase and improve the city’s ability to fight and reduce crime.

Following are the 8 Can’t Wait policy recommendations Thorpe said, last year, he wanted implemented:

  1. Ban police use of chokeholds and strangleholds, including the carotid restraint (now, state law)
  2. Require officers to de-escalate situations whenever possible
  3. Require officers to exhaust all options before shooting, including less lethal force
  4. Ban officers from shooting at moving vehicles
  5. Establish a use of force continuum that restricts using the most severe force to most extreme situations
  6. Require comprehensive reporting for each time an officer fires or points their weapon at someone
  7. Require verbal warnings before using deadly force (already an Antioch policy)
  8. Require officers to intervene to stop excessive force by other officers (already an Antioch policy)

Thorpe also proposed his own five reforms, at that time: Demilitarize our local police; Increase police accountability; Improve police hiring practices; Excessive use of force and Budget appropriations.

Additionally, Thorpe said he had signed the’s “My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Pledge”, to make Antioch an “MBK Community” which asks local officials to:

  1. Review the police use of force policies in my community
  2. Engage my community by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in our review
  3. Report the findings of our review to my community and seek feedback within 90 days of signing this pledge
  4. Reform my community’s police use of force policies based on findings

When asked for his thoughts on Thorpe’s proposed reforms at that time, Antioch Police Chief T Brooks responded, “I look forward to hearing the discussion…on this proposal.  I am especially interested in what specific reforms they believe are necessary at the Antioch Police Department.”

In addition, Brooks responded the next day informing the public that five of the 8 Can’t Wait reforms had been or were already being implemented by his department, and why he doesn’t recommend implementing all of them. Those not being implemented or which the chief doesn’t recommend are numbers 3, 4 and 5 and he explained why.

More and Latest Reforms

As presented during his press conference on Monday, Thorpe is now offering six areas of reform including Mental Health, Training, Demilitarizing, Accountability & Transparency, Hiring, and Communication. The added reform, in the area of mental health, would include forming a crisis team to accompany police officers on mental health distress calls and require annual mental health assessments of police officers and dispatch workers. His proposed training reforms includes “implicit bias training” which is based on the assumption that our police officers interact with different people differently based on their skin color, ethnicity or other characteristics.

The reform of communications with city officials stems from Thorpe’s claim that the APD did not inform him or the other council members about the death of an Antioch resident, Angelo Quinto in late December following an interaction with police, and that he had to learn about it on social media the first week of January. However, at Wednesday’s press conference, Chief Brooks, who said he was on vacation at the time, stated someone in his department had contacted the mayor about the man’s death, at that time. A request for documentation to support that claim has been requested.

Thorpe also provided more details about the six reforms he is now asking the city council to consider.

Requests for Data

Asked on Monday, other than the large vehicle the APD has that’s mainly used during parades, how has the department become militarized and when was the last time the APD purchased, Thorpe did not respond. That and the question, when was the last time the department purchased or received any military equipment were posed to Chief Brooks. He too did not respond.

The chief was also asked how many citizen complaints the department has received over the past year, three years and five years and how they were addressed. While Brooks has yet to respond, those are the questions the council members need to ask before making any decisions.

Decisions Must Be Based on Findings

Thorpe’s proposed reforms and comments during the press conferences appear to assume Antioch Police officers are violating people’s rights and not following best practices nor use of force policies. Yet, if he wants to make Antioch an MBK city, then Thorpe should follow the pledge he’s signed and make sure his comments and decisions are “based on findings” and that he and the council have first reviewed the “police use of force policies in my community”. Those should be part of any agenda item on that proposed reforms.

During his press conference on Monday, Thorpe said he wants the council to “review and audit all police complaints,” and “proactively review our use of force policies.” Again, that should be done before voting on any reforms.

Other than approving body cameras and police car dash cams, for which a majority of council members have publicly expressed support and are long overdue – since they protect both public, as well as police officers from false accusations – as well as improved communications by the department, the mayor and council need to slow down on the rest of the proposed reforms and base their decisions on actual data of what’s happening in our city.

Special Council Meeting Premature

In a reaction to the in-custody death, early Wednesday morning, of a man who, based on the police report, was high on drugs at the time of his interaction with police, Thorpe has now called for a special council meeting, tomorrow night at 5 p.m. to begin discussions on his proposed reforms.

Yet, the report from the three Bridging the Gap forums, in which hundreds of Antioch residents and business owners participated, is not yet completed and released by the paid consultants hired to facilitate the process.

So, while Thorpe’s pledge to “Engage my community by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in our review” may have been met, he’s now going to ignore that input and wants the council to do the same when deciding on his reforms.

Hear from Chief Brooks & Get Data, First

Most importantly, Thorpe’s proposed reforms aren’t based on proof of need. For the past year we’ve been hearing the phrase “follow the science” regarding government officials’ responses to COVID-19. Yet, where is the scientific evidence to support the need for any of the reforms he’s proposing? The council should make data-driven decisions. Not base them on what is happening in other cities across the country, what sounds good, or after being caught up emotionally or politically in some national movement.

If they want to consider any of the reforms the council must first hear from Chief Brooks – our city’s leading expert on police services and fighting crime – about what is already happening within the department and direct staff to provide the data and evidence to support any and all of the proposed reforms.

Yes to Police Cameras, Mental Health Support

I definitely support body and dash cams and those should be approved immediately. I also don’t have a problem with including mental health professionals on calls for service involving crisis interventions. If that’s working elsewhere to reduce the need for police interaction with some individuals and the need for jail time, when what will be more appropriate and effective is either medicine or to be in a substance abuse counseling program, then let’s consider it – again, based on the need from the data. I also support improved communications by the police department.

Better APD Communications

At the same time, Chief Brooks and the APD need to do a better job communicating with and informing the public, especially in matters involving a death following an interaction with police. While he was on vacation at the time of Quinto’s death in December, that shouldn’t have prevented Brook’s second-in-command from issuing a press release and informing the public that it had occurred following an interaction with Antioch officers. Police agencies issue press releases about such an incident even while their investigation continues, all the time. We shouldn’t have to wait months to hear from APD, such as with the Angelo Quinto incident and death, the arrest for arson by Antioch resident and protest leader Shagoofa Khan, and the incident involving Councilwoman Torres-Walker’s sons, which is being investigated by an outside agency as she demanded.

In fact, until that investigation is completed, Torres-Walker needs to recuse herself from voting on any police reforms, to avoid making a biased decision.

Focus on Crime Reduction, Criminal Reform

Most importantly, where are the mayor’s or other council members’ proposals to increase public safety and improve the Antioch Police Department’s ability to fight and reduce crime in our city? That was the focus of both Measures C and W, in which we the people voted twice to tax ourselves in order to increase the number of sworn police officers on the force and still should be.

While the good news is most Part-I crimes have been reduced in Antioch over the past several years, we have a long way to go to ensuring our city is safe for all of our residents and in all parts of town.

The council needs to be asking what decisions they can make and policies they can approve to help the APD hire more police officers and sooner to get us to at least 126 sworn police officers, to achieve the long-desired goal of 1.2 officers per 1,000 population.

What we also haven’t heard from the mayor or any council members is how can we have criminal reform. What programs are they proposing to deter people from committing crime, to reduce gang violence, to reduce recidivism of formerly incarcerated individuals, etc.? Torres-Walker runs a non-profit that works with ex-cons to help them find jobs, mainstream them back into society and help reduce recidivism, which is laudable. Surely, in her interactions with her clients, she’s learned from them what can be done in that area. Where are her proposals on that? What happened to Operation Ceasefire which she’s previously mentioned, for example? Is that still being implemented in Antioch?

New Aspirational Goal, Don’t Make Things More Difficult for Police

Perhaps some of the police reforms are needed. But until they have the data and demonstrate to the public the need for them is proven, our elected leaders must get back to focusing on reducing crime, rather than on efforts to reform what may not need reforming. While those efforts do get headlines and attention from regional media, I’d love to instead, someday write a headline that reads “Antioch rated safest city of over 100,000 population in California”. Let that be our city leaders’ goal and have them work and focus on that. In fact, it should be on the top of the list of their new aspirational goals. The police are already hamstrung by the voter-approved state Prop. 47 which reduce the penalty for stealing up to $950 of merchandise to a misdemeanor, and by a soft-on-crime District Attorney and a COVID-19 situation that has resulted in the release of criminals back into our community. Let’s not make things more difficult for the Antioch Police Department to fight crime and improve public safety in our community.

Allen Payton is the Publisher and Editor of the Antioch Herald, and He is a former Antioch Mayor Pro Tem and Councilman. During his term on the city council 19 sworn officers were added to the police force and crime was reduced citywide by 40%, and in the city’s highest crime area by 80%. He’s been a newspaper publisher in Antioch for over 15 of the past 19 years.

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