Brian R. Marvel
Amazing how the world turns in less than a month. One incident in one city a thousand miles away has upended our entire profession, sparking dramatic calls for police reform at the federal, state and local levels. All the hard work responding to the COVID-19 crisis, the last couple of years working with the Legislature on Senate Bill 230/Assembly Bill 392, and the increased work on building greater relationships and trust within minority communities all pretty much evaporated overnight with the death of George Floyd. A vast majority of peace officers around the nation, including PORAC, were shocked and saddened by what we saw on that video. The actions of that officer and his partners have created an environment where protesters are demanding radical reforms, the abolishment of police unions, defunding police departments and in some places trying to abolish entire agencies. And efforts to have fact-based or logical discussions on these issues have been parked at the front door! Pure emotion is driving a lot of this.
Fortunately, on the federal level, we do not have one-party rule like in California, so we anticipate a modicum of allowing rank-and-file peace officers at the table to discuss the reforms being proposed in the House and Senate. In contrast, in California, the rush and desire to one-up each other on police reform goes almost unchecked. A large portion of elected officials are running scared, fueled by the media fanning the flames of hate and discontent for those who wear the badge and especially those who protect their due process rights, pay and benefits. Even on the local level, we are seeing some city councils enact legislation quickly so we cannot organize. They want to steamroll their reforms through so they can appease the protesters. Appeasement never seems to work out like the appeasers believe it will.
It is not all bad news. We have had some successes, although quietly. The governor has been traveling around the state, touring schools and talking to the kids. As the budget talks were getting close to being a done deal, we caught wind that the governor had proposed eliminating school police departments and school resource officers, among other issues. I thought to myself, “We have come to a place where kids are driving public safety policy. I feel like I’m in the twilight zone or this is an April’s Fool’s joke!” But, alas, it wasn’t. We immediately organized and marshaled the school police members of PORAC to educate and advocate to our elected leaders on the folly of this plan. Within 24 hours of hearing about this, we successfully averted the trailer bill and have now created an opportunity to have dialogue on this issue. We still have friends at the Capitol, we still have supporters, and we are grateful that rational and cooler heads prevailed.
However, although it may appear that our communities have turned their backs on us in some parts of the state, I have faith that a majority of citizens support our profession and our ability to protect and serve our communities. I think it was very telling that the Fund a Hero campaign we created in honor of fallen Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller raised more than $750,000 for his family during this very tragic time. That leads me to believe that we have a much stronger base of support than our critics want to portray. As these protests continue, there are so many anti-police media stories that they are running out of talking heads. Now they just bring people in who just lie about police contracts. As with all pendulums, it will swing back, hopefully sooner rather than later for us.
With all of that said, PORAC continues to advocate on the state and federal levels. I have provided testimony to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees regarding police reform. We continue to push for a national conversation about use-of-force policies, training and recruitment. Now more than ever, it appears that what we have been advocating for over the past several years will take hold on the federal level, and California can be a leader in this area. In addition to our federal outreach, we are actively working to make sure that we have a seat at the table to be able to provide input and guide what the reforms will look like here in our state. I firmly believe that our profession will change, but to what degree, I do not know. The Board of Directors is working very hard to make sure your voices are heard. This will require a team effort on all levels.
In closing, I want to take a moment to memorialize Sergeant Gutzwiller, who was killed in the line of duty on June 6, and to send our prayers for a speedy recovery to the other brave officers who were injured in the incident. It is very unfortunate that a member of a far-right extremist group was able to fly under the radar and kill one of our members. We hope that justice is swift, and the federal and state government will take decisive action against this group. If they are willing to tear the fabric of society in Santa Cruz, they are willing to do it nationally, and nothing they advocate for will make America better.
Finally, please be aware that we are doing everything in our power to make sure the annual Conference of Members happens and is a great success. We are experiencing some issues due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Please go to PORAC.org/events/conference to sign up for our email alerts to stay fully informed of the status along with other pertinent information.