Working toward a new, improved police culture

A paradigm shift is needed in Chico that benefits both law enforcement and the community

The author is on the steering committee of Concerned Citizens for Justice-Chico.

Across this country in 2018, more police officers died from suicide than shootings, car accidents, and any and all other job-related issues. And, the same applies to firefighters and first responders; more died by suicide than the combination of fire-involved fatalities, vehicle accidents, etc.

I’m worried about Police Chief Mike O’Brien and the other officers in Chico. There’s something wrong with the police culture when law enforcement personnel are so distraught that they’re taking their own lives in growing numbers. It’s time for a change.

Last year in this community, when I watched footage of several 6-foot-tall cops surrounding an 8-year-old boy—his hands cuffed behind him, sitting on the sidewalk and crying uncontrollably—and refusing to remove his handcuffs, I knew something was wrong. This is not how we treat our citizens, this is not how we value our children.

Having a command-and-control mindset leads to confrontation, rather than problem resolution. Use of force must be a last resort, not a first response. We need our police officers to know when to be warriors and when to be guardians. And 99 percent of the time, we need them to be guardians.

Concerned Citizens for Justice wants a partnership with our police officers; we want a community effort to build a safer community. That means mutual respect between the police and the community. Our organization is an independent community group focusing on humanizing our police departments so they move away from a command-and-control paradigm.

Our police culture must change.

One way to ensure that it does is for police to participate in in-depth crisis intervention training (CIT), so that they are prepared to interact with citizens with mental health challenges. Our officers need to learn about and be properly trained in how to apply de-escalation techniques for potential confrontations. This must become the No. 1 priority of the Chico Police Department.

More than half of the city of Chico’s general fund budget goes to the police department; it’s time to have some control over how that money is spent. Our police budget should prioritize CIT and de-escalation training. It’s a start to building a new police culture that benefits the officers and the community.