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Council Takes Second Shot at Appointing Police Commission

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By Jorge Casuso

April 26, 2021 -- The City Council on Tuesday will once again try to appoint members to Santa Monica's eagerly awaited police reform commission after delaying the vote due to a dearth of young and minority candidates.

The vote comes two weeks after 52 candidates were presented to the Council, which must appoint 11 members, two of them residents ages 18 to 22, to the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission.

Since the Council delayed the vote April 13, a total of 19 candidates have been added to the list of applicants to the commission that will recommend reforms to police policies, practices and the handling of conduct complaints.

Three of the 71 applicants the Council will consider meet the age requirements for two seats reserved for local youth, which drew no applicants by the first deadline.

But they may not fit the bill if the Council is looking for young Black and Latino men who have had first hand encounters with law enforcement or been impacted by gangs in the predominantly white, upscale city.

Three of the applicants for the two seats are women, and the only male applicant is a former patrol leader and current staff member of a Boy Scout troop.

"I help lead the younger scouts and mediate any disagreements or challenges among the group," the young applicant wrote. "I work with the leadership on any complaints and problems."

Asked to share "any knowledge of or experience with law enforcement," the applicant responded that it "comes from my reading."

One of the young ladies recounted her brush with the law when she and her friends were sitting on the steps of a church near Santa Monica College.

They were approached by officers who "mistook the Arizona Arnold Palmers with the alcoholic beverage, 4 lokos."

"They kept asking questions as if we didn't know our rights, so as I stepped up to walk away, they surrounded me with their hands on their guns over some drinks," she wrote.

The other young female applicant noted that a male friend was attacked by a homeless man after she and a group of friends visited Tongva Park.

"I want to make sure that younger people and women feel safe enough to live in Santa Monica," she wrote.

Mayor Sue Himmelich, who bemoaned the dearth of youth, minority and women applicants at the last meeting, believes the Council may want to expand the age limit for the two seats reserved for young residents.

"They did a lot of outreach," Himmelrich said, referring to City staff.

"What this tells us is that this is a group that is not interested in serving on a commission," she said.

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre believes the small pool of young applicants may be in part due to the coronavirus shutdown.

"All of the youth centers and schools have been closed," de la Torre said. "We haven't had communication or contact for a whole year.

"It would be great to have more African Americans and Latinos, the people closest to the problem in the driver's seat regarding the solution."

Several civic leaders urged the Council to do more to make sure young residents are included on the Commission.

"I am confident that there are young people 18-22 in our community who could serve effectively if invited and supported," wrote Abby Arnold, a former Council candidate and member of Santa Monica Forward.

Arnold suggested the City recruit from local non profits and religious congregations and the City's low-income housing provider, Community Corp, and use fliers, email and social media.

Democratic Club President Jon Katz wrote before the first meeting, "It is crucial that we bring in the voices of young people to this Committee, and it is a shame that it will be starting without them."

Councilmember Kevin McKeown thinks the Council should quickly appoint the new commissioners.

"This is something our community has wanted us to move on for a long, long time," McKeown said at the April 13 meeting, when he cast the only vote not to postpone the appointments.

"We need to get them on that commission and hit the ground running," McKeown said.

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