During its virtual zoom meeting Wednesday night, the Arcata City Council unanimously approved the annual budget plan, which cuts city expenditures by about $1.3 million, reducing police department funding by nearly $750,000.
City Manager Karen Diemer presented to the council the 2020/2021 budget proposal, which takes into account severe revenue losses to the city’s general fund due to impacts from the COVID-19 emergency.
“We just want to really want to acknowledge the tremendous economic challenges that are being faced by individuals, businesses and Arcata’s economy as a whole,” Diemer said to the council. “Our budget reflects those challenges.”
The council held two budget sessions in May, discussing different scenarios based on the easement of county shelter-in-place guidelines and the effects of HSU moving to primarily online instruction for the fall semester.
The budget is based on the initial assumption that HSU would be 100 percent online. The university recently announced that limited face-to-face classes will resume in the fall. But city staff is still unsure how this will affect expected enrollment and is working closely with HSU to figure out how many students are expected to return, Diemer said.
Even with more students potentially returning to Arcata come fall, the city’s revenue from sales tax, transaction and use tax and transient occupancy tax have and will continue to take a huge hit, and severe cuts to services, projects and personnel were required.
The Arcata Police Department (APD) will see the largest budget cut for the upcoming year, with a reduction of $746,000. This includes freezing four vacant positions, three overhire positions — candidates for open positions who are still in training — and cuts funding for police equipment, supplies and training.
Diemer outlined the specific cuts to the APD at the request of Councilmember Sofia Periera, who felt that it was important to highlight amid recent citizen calls to defund the police. “I think many of us have received communications asking us to pay special attention to our police department’s budget,” Pereira said during the meeting.
In related business, the council directed APD Chief Brian Ahearn to begin taking steps toward implementing law-enforcement reform policies, prompted by recent citizen protests against police brutality and racism in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.
Ahearn presented the strategies outlined in the Campaign Zero platform — which pushes 10 steps to end police brutality — and the 8 Can’t Wait platform — which outlines eight reform actions to bring immediate change to police departments.
The APD already follows many of the suggested reform policies, Ahearn said and police departments statewide have already made great efforts to implement some of these changes.
“California’s reform efforts in the last several years have really placed the law enforcement profession on a different trajectory than perhaps the law enforcement in other states,” Ahearn said to the council. “Whereby several, if not all, of the reforms Campaign Zero asks for have been implemented statewide.”
However, Ahearn said there were some “nuances” to APD’s policies and practices, which the council could look at and provide some direction on. For example, the “8 Can’t Wait” platform calls for banning the use of chokeholds — something that is already prohibited both in Arcata and statewide, Ahearn said. However, the department does train officers on the carotid control hold, which does involve applying pressure to the neck. It is meant to be safer, but it is possible to execute incorrectly, Ahearn said.
Another consideration for local reform, Ahearn said, is expanding the department’s policies on the use of body cameras. Though Arcata police
officers are legally required to do wear body cams, Ahearn believes the requirements for when they must be turned on are too loose.
“Quite frankly our policy allows for too much latitude for when they should be activated or not,” Ahearn said. “I’m a proponent of having them on if an incident appears that it will meet the threshold that they be activated.”
Addressing reform suggestions for “demilitarizing the police,” Ahearn said that APD does possess 14 rifles that were provided by the Department of Defense a few years ago. Ahearn said that APD does not use or train with the rifles and maybe it would be a good idea to release them back to the military.
The council discussed some of Ahearn’s suggestions, ultimately deciding that the department should update its policy on and increase the use of body worn cameras, remove the carotid control hold method, return the 14 rifles to the Department of Defense, prioritize POST-approved deescalation training methods and require supervisorial review of all use-of-force cases.
The council also felt that APD should work closely with the Arcata Public Safety Committee to form a cohesive reform strategy and to develop some form of gathering community feedback. The council directed Ahearn to provide an update in about a month or so.
Councilmember Brett Watson expressed some concern for how new training and policy changes will be implement when the department is losing $750,000 from its budget. But other council members felt that it was still important to begin planning and addressing these issues now.
“Yeah, we don’t have the money right now to implement,” Pereira said. “But I think we also don’t have a strategy and a collective vision that we want to implement yet. I think this is a time that we can have that conversation.”
In other business, the council unanimously approved a special tax measure for the November ballot. The measure ask voters to approve a $37 annual parcel tax for the use of improving and maintaining city parks, trails and open spaces.
You can view the full city council meeting video here.
CORRECTION: This article originally stated that police officers are legally required to wear body cameras. It has been corrected. Though the Arcata police do wear body cams, it is not required by CA law. The Outpost regrets the error.