Responding to overwhelming public concerns about transparency and accountability, East Palo Alto's elected leaders on Tuesday night scrapped a staff proposal to consider outsourcing police services to San Mateo County.
The council voted 4-1, with Councilman Larry Moody dissenting, not to pursue the option of contracting out the city's police services, Councilman Ruben Abrica said. The vote came about two weeks after City Manager Magda Gonzalez and Assistant City Manager Barbara Powell recommended exploring the outsourcing option as part of a broader transition period in the department.
Councilman Ruben Abrica said the the council decided to end the discussion of contracting out police services after hearing from members of the public, who filled every seat in the Council Chambers Tuesday night and beseeched city leaders to keep police services local. Abrica said speakers were concerned about the prospect of losing accountability and local control over police services.
"It was very representative group of people in the community -- different age groups, different ethnic groups -- and they were pretty much telling us with a unanimous voice, 'Don't do this,'" Abrica said.
Many cited the historic tensions between the community and police and the recent progress the city has made to foster trust, said Abrica, who also shares this sentiment. He pointed to the progress the city had made in recent years in building trust and improving the relationship between police and the community. He said he was concerned that even considering the outsourcing option would "fracture the relationship that it has taken years to build."
Though city staff had never recommended outsourcing the police services, Powell suggested in a staff report last month that the option may be worth studying further. She wrote that an in-house police department is just one model used by cities of East Palo Alto's size and that other cities contract out the service.
"The City Manager has had discussions with City Council members, and a majority have expressed an interest in having staff gather as much information as possible in order to enable the Council to explore options and make informed decisions," Powell wrote.
The discussion was prompted by the recent retirement of Ron Davis, who served as police chief for eight years before announcing in late October that he would leave to become director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Since then, the city has had two interim chiefs.
"The recent retirement of former Chief of Police Ron Davis, and the appointment of two Interim Police Chiefs in succession, provides a unique opportunity for the City of East Palo Alto to gather as much information as possible, and to evaluate the provision of public safety services, with an emphasis on the City's unique needs and attributes," Powell wrote in a staff report.
But the decision by city administrators to link succession planning and potential outsourcing created unnecessary confusion on a topic that is both incredibly sensitive and critically important, Abrica said. The council recognized this Tuesday when it voted not to explore this option any further.
"The issue was really starting to create a lot of instability and turmoil, both within the police department and the community," Abrica said.
In a separate action, the council voted to rescind a $77,000 grant it had approved in November to give to local nonprofits New Creation Home Ministries and Able Works after it was discovered that Moody's wife works at New Creation, which created a conflict of interest. Abrica said the council rescinded this grant with Moody recusing himself from the vote.
The $77,000 was part of a larger $163,333 in grants from Measure C funds, which are used to combat crime by supporting services for at-risk youth and adults. The council voted to reallocate the total $163,333 to a collaboration of nonprofits who previously received a portion: Able Works, HIP Housing and Bayshore Christian Ministries (New Creation is no longer involved).