This is the second of eight questions WEHOville presented on Aug. 18 to the candidates in the Nov. 3 election for two seats on the West Hollywood City Council. The questions are based on suggestions from West Hollywood residents — the citizens of WeHo. A new question, and the answers, will be published each of the next six days. Monday’s question and the answers can be found here.
The City Council has decided to engage an outside consultant to look at how law enforcement is conducted in West Hollywood. Who do you think that consultant should reach out to for the perspective of West Hollywood residents? What, if any, are the issues you think should be addressed regarding law enforcement in West Hollywood?
Mark Farhad Yusupov
Hiring an outside consulting firm is a positive step to reforming policing policies within our community. There needs to be active coordination with the Public Safety Department, Public Safety Commission, Neighborhood Watch captains, local leaders, business leaders, homeowners association presidents, apartment managers, and city residents to provide feedback on community needs and public safety concerns when it comes to policing. The consulting firm should also collect input from those involved in Weho’s Security Ambassador program. The collected data will help the city be better informed and effectively engage with LASD to make necessary changes in its training and policing tactics.
I would encourage the deputies who serve West Hollywood to become better engaged with the community that they serve in order to understand the ongoing issues so that they can safely and effectively work to resolve those issues. Whether it is petty theft or more serious crimes, deputies working in WeHo should study the patterns, identify root causes and vulnerabilities in public safety, and work on prevention with the help of our local public safety agencies. Continuous training and retraining of deputies with an emphasis on de-escalation tactics, eradication of racial profiling, and sensitivity training are an absolute must.
Finally, I plan to increase the number of Security Ambassadors within the city to ensure public safety, especially in the evening hours. In order to achieve the best outcomes, we must make sure that we have adequate staff from the Mental Evaluation Team at our Weho Sheriff’s Station for those struggling with mental health and substance abuse. It is important that we work towards crime prevention and dedicate resources to retraining officers to specifically serve our community.
Since West Hollywood is a contract city, I believe there must be a special task force including members of the community, landowners and small business owners to be able and get many different perspectives for the consultant. I believe some police budget should go to allocate monies for the neighborhood Block by Block safety task force, so they could handle minor issues that can arise in the city.
That consultant should reach out directly to our residents and business owners starting with the 20% of our residents who are Black, Indigenous and people of color as well as our staff, commissioners and advisory board members to learn their direct experiences with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in West Hollywood, utilizing a variety of method including holding a forum and direct interviews.
As a leading LGBTQ+ and progressive city, West Hollywood has a responsibility to lead in taking active steps to meet this moment and protect our communities of color. We are budgeted to spend more than $20 million on our contract with the LASD$ and more than 3 million with the Public Safety Division, which includes Block by Block, through 2021. We need a more robust community-based approach.
My Community SHYNE Plan for Social Justice and Representation includes:
- The creation of a social justice task force made up of Black, Indigenous and people of color who are residents, business owners and workers to advise the city on social equity issues and transformative reforms needed to dismantle systemic racism.
- Reviewing and re-imagining our public safety budget. I am a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter and take seriously the work that needs to be done to examine where our budget is going and how we put our community first. It means looking at law enforcement and shifting funds from areas where law enforcement does not have expertise needed to effectively provide public safety and to move those funds to experts who are trained to deal effectively with issues for the betterment of the community. This also frees up time for police to effectively do their job in preventing and solving violent crimes.
- Creating a dedicated line for non-violent safety issues including neighbor disputes through redirecting money from LASD to our Code Compliance Department and giving it the authority to issue citations.
- Bolstering our Mental Evaluation Team’s (MET) budget, since it has reduced incarceration and use of force within our city, and develop programs to redirect other non-violent public safety calls that do not fall under MET to social workers and mental health experts.
- Sensitivity and diversity training does not go far enough to help dismantle racism. We need to provide systemic racism training for all city elected and appointed officials, staff and LASD deputies and Block by Block staffers working in West Hollywood.
The summer of 2020 will be one that lives in infamy. The senseless killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor attracted the attention of the world, and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake even further proves the problems of racism and police brutality we have in this nation. We are at a turning point in history, and this is where local government can make a significant difference. We need to learn, grow and evolve from these tragedies, and police departments and law enforcement also need to learn, grow and evolve.
I believe we need local police departments to keep us safe, but I also believe that everyone deserves the basic right to be treated equally. Police reform is necessary and it’s important that we look at the $19 million contract we have with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and see how we can reallocate funds to make sure the department is working for the needs of ALL the residents of our community.
To most, West Hollywood is considered a progressive city. But systemic racism occurs everywhere. Training and education is vital… because when we know better, we do better. We are sending our police out into the streets without enough training. More emphasis needs to be put on de-escalation tactics to reduce excessive force. And we need to hear from voices in the Black community about how we can better address situations of police interactions with Black men, women and youth. I also believe community outreach can go a long way to bridging the gap between the police and the community. We need more community outreach from the Sheriff’s department for all our citizens. We need to see more patrolling of streets, because when done correctly, that creates a sense of community and allows residents to form true relationships with officers and not just when something is going wrong.
During this pandemic I have been going on walks with friends, and I have noticed a glaring difference between walking the streets of West Hollywood and walking the streets of Beverly Hills. In Beverly Hills, it’s commonplace to see police patrolling the neighborhood. On so many occasions they wave, and we wave back or just exchange a friendly “have a good evening” to each other. In my experience, that just doesn’t happen in West Hollywood. I rarely see an officer patrolling the streets in my neighborhood. And that’s unfortunate because that builds a trust between the resident and officer. For a city that is only 1.89 square miles, I think our streets should be much better patrolled. That’s the kind of community outreach I would like to have all our residents experience.
The decision to hire an independent consultant to evaluate policing and law enforcement was motivated by a desire to address the issues of systemic racism and discrimination within our criminal justice system. West Hollywood has always been a leader in fighting against discrimination and injustice. We need to do everything in our power to eliminate bias, discrimination and mistreatment of individuals by law enforcement, especially when it comes to people of color. The consultant must obtain the perspectives of Black residents, business people and visitors to the city to make sure we identify the issues which need to be addressed. In addition, we need to reach out to other groups within the community such as immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community. We should also obtain the perspective of residents who may have been victims of crimes to get their assessment of interactions with law enforcement.
In addition to evaluating allegations of discriminatory treatment by law enforcement, the independent consultant should also look at how we are deploying police resources. Our public safety resources should be deployed with the goal of preventing and reducing violent crimes and addressing other public safety and quality of life issues in the city. Addressing some of these problems requires the use of trained police officers. But other issues can be addressed without the need for a sworn law enforcement officer. We have already begun relying on trained security ambassadors to address quality of life issues which don’t typically need to be addressed by a sworn officer. But we need to carefully analyze what public safety issues need to be addressed by law enforcement and what issues can be addressed by security ambassadors, code enforcement or social service providers. We also need to determine the best methods for de-escalating confrontations.
But the report and recommendations from the independent consultant are only one part of the solution. We also need to work with the other cities in Los Angeles County to develop reforms we need to implement in our contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. While we can make improvements in West Hollywood, we need to work with the other cities to help transform law enforcement in the region.
I think the consultant should reach out to both residents of all demographics and business owners and their employees, plus people who visit our city. I think the consultant needs to go beyond the same old activists and dig deeper to get the opinion of women, the trans community and even the unhoused who are our neighbors. I include people who visit because I have heard many stories of young gay men of color visiting our city only to get profiled by the Sheriffs for no apparent reason.
West Hollywood is a contract city, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department values our contract. In other words, we are their boss and do have leverage over their practices. As a result, we must utilize the power of that contract to immediately push for reform to stop abuse, over-policing, and specifically more training to change the means for which we’ve seen rampant abuse. We must engage stakeholders from both within and outside of West Hollywood, such as BLM, the Unique Woman’s Coalition, the TransLatin@ Coalition, or any type of reform-based policies that would be put forth by the Public Safety Commission that would ultimately come before the City Council.
I do not support increased funding for the Sheriffs and strongly believe we should reinvest money back into our social services, such as more grant-based funding for BIPOC organizations and others that work towards social and racial justice. We do not need armed Sheriffs stopping traffic violators or doing the job of a mental health worker, who is better trained than law enforcement to do certain jobs.
West Hollywood is a leader for the underserved, and now is an opportunity for us to evolve into the next era and protect those who need it most. This means bringing in community policing standards and civilian oversight to the table. My focus will be to fund new programs that affirm life and address the root causes of crime — such as affordable housing, quality education, and access to economic prosperity.
I am a strong supporter of the L.A. County sheriffs and I have received the endorsement of ALADS – the Sheriff deputies union. This is ironic because I was the proponent of creating the West Hollywood Police Department back in 1991. I was one of the authors of the ballot initiative to do this. We lost that campaign by a vote of 52%-48%. But because it was so close – it became the impetus for drastic change. I was one of Deputy Bruce Boland’s attorneys who got him reinstated when he was the first sheriff’s deputy to come out of the closet and was fired due to his sexual orientation. Between the initiative and the lawsuit over Deputy Boland – we forced major changes at the Sheriff’s station in the ways in which they interacted with the LGBT community. The undercover stings for “lewd conduct” stopped in West Hollywood and openly LGBT deputies were recruited.
Many of the calls for national police reform today advocate for community-based policing – something that we have been doing with the Sheriff’s Department for over 20 years. They really do feel like our neighborhood police department. We have been pushing more authority into the hands of Code Enforcement, Block by Block ambassadors and mental health evaluation teams to deal with many of the quality of life issues that present themselves across our community. We have the resources that we do not need to “defund” the police. We have the resources to maintain our existing public safety dollars while also increasing the amount of money that we spend on social services.
West Hollywood remains the number one city nationally in dollars spent per capita on our residents. If anything, we can export the good work that we do here with our Sheriff’s Department into other regions around Los Angeles County. We should use our leverage to create systemic change within the department.
One final thought for those who would propose creating a West Hollywood Police Department in 2020 – the pensions would crush our local budget. Most small cities are now abandoning their police agencies and contracting with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department because the law enforcement pensions eat up too much revenue that needs to be used for constituent services.
The consultants should look into “RITE Intelligence” training adopted by other cities. The program creates a necessary awareness of emotional intelligence vs. social intelligence. “Emotional intelligence is to “focus on what officers feel when they respond, and social intelligence is a person’s implicit bias toward a situation based on factors such as religion or class.”
Training, review, accountability and leadership should be the focus.
Let’s not reward bad behavior!
Overall, I believe we have a Sheriff’s Station that is very much in tune with our diverse community’s components and needs. What we do need is a program of continuous racial intelligence training and engagement to teach law enforcement officers and deputies how racial and emotional intelligence can serve the community.
Along with training, mental and psychological evaluations at least semi-annually, if not more often, are a necessary preventive measure. An ongoing program of sensitivity training with a quarterly review should also be a requirement. This should include a questionnaire that deputies are required to answer to keep the awareness levels at the forefront of the law enforcement officer’s thinking along with knowledge of accountability and consequences.
Our local government needs elected officials to maintain and exemplify ethical conduct and set the standard for all who serve. Continuing to re-elect Council members who set poor examples and become fodder for law enforcement breakroom jokes, do more harm to re-enforce negative stereotyping and perpetuate dangerously impulsive responses by law enforcement officers and deputies in the community.
Absolutely, the consultant should reach out to neighborhood groups. They are the first line of fire (so to speak) when encountering crimes and our local law enforcement’s response to dealing with them. Much of the crime and vandalism in the city takes place after the clubs and restaurants get out late at night or early morning hours. An increase in foot and bicycle patrols would be a visible presence that should deter many crimes of opportunity. We still have a serious issue with homeless individuals perpetrating minor crimes. This needs to be brought under control and a greater effort to find them permanent housing solutions.
The timely response rate by law enforcement needs to be evaluated and if found lacking, solutions need to be discussed. Regular neighborhood meetings to hear residents’ issues about the specific types of crimes prevalent in each area. Residents are also interested in hearing what type of criminal activity or vandalism incidents are common in their neighborhood and what is being done to tackle these problems. There should be an ongoing focus of the common T-A-B crimes of: Thief, Assault and Burglary.
When the City Council reviewed the idea to commit dollars to an outside agency to study our policing I spoke against this item. At the time I suggested that the answers to these questions are in front of our eyes. Before we commit to a study we should review the past two years of public comments at the Public Safety Commission. Our first step should have been to ask staff to compile and summarize public input prior to ordering the study.
Prior to the pandemic, in the last Public Safety Commission meeting before the pandemic hit, I made a public comment challenging the commission to do more. The last serious joint commission meeting that the Public Safety Commission had with any other commission was the crosswalk joint commission meeting, headed by Chairman Burke on Public Safety and Lindsey Horvath as Transportation Commissioner, which was pushed by me to update our crosswalks. That was almost six years ago. The only joint commission meeting since then was one with the Women’s Advisory Board. There are no standing committees on our Public Safety Commission. We do not need an outside study. We need to listen to residents and respond and not outsource a response.
Other issues that need to be addressed or readdressed are cops on foot, sensitivity training, a new homeless contract, installation of body cameras, (a question I brought forward two years ago when a company — Axon– had this new equipment that was not yet deployed in our region). Sheriff’s Captain Ramirez and I have shared his ideas on programs and having a small budget for minor things. The Sheriff or Block by Block should be able to provide a mask for a homeless person or have some disposable funds for special needs. I consider Captain Ramirez a friend and community partner, and he shared with me a story about a couple of homeless kids who were stuck on the street and just wanted to get back to their hometown. The sheriffs could not reach these youngsters families so they gathered a pool of money together to get plane tickets to help these homeless kids find their way home. This city wastes so much money on pet projects and ignores important special needs of our own law enforcement. if we had a small budget to supplement our unique special needs it would help us clean up our streets.
As a shop owner dealing with the homeless sprawled out on the sidewalk in front of my store daily, a Sheriff that is slow to respond, a city that relies on tourism for tax dollars solving policing issues will be my top priority. It will begin with sensitivity training and not stop until we create a community-oriented local Sheriff’s Department.