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Antioch City Council tackles police reform in marathon meeting

Police body cameras are part of a reform package endorsed by the Antioch City Council following a marathon 7.5-hour meeting Friday night.

Following a delayed public revelation of the in-custody death of Angelo Quinto in December and another in-custody death Wednesday, Mayor Lamar Thorpe introduced a police reform program that he brought before the council during the special meeting.

Thorpe noted at the open of the meeting:

“It’s been a pretty turbulent week in the city of Antioch.”

The mayor offered seven reform proposals to the council, including:

  • Mental health crisis response
  • Officer training
  • Demilitarization of police
  • Body and dashboard cameras
  • Independent review of complaints
  • Hiring and screening
  • Public notification for major incidents

In last year’s election, Thorpe ousted incumbent Mayor Sean Wright and Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts lost to Tamisha Torres-Walker. The vote count delivered an African-American majority on the city council and a definite progressive swing to local politics.

In launching the discussion on the proposals, Thorpe emphasized the importance of bringing more “transparency” to police practices.

Torres-Walker said:

“Change is never easy…but the world is watching. What we are doing today is just the floor not the ceiling.”

The council spent hours of the meeting airing public comments from hundreds of residents, minority activists and law enforcement supporters.

The first item addressed the development of non-uniformed mental health crisis response as outlined in a famed program called CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) that originated in Eugene, Oregon, in 1989 by “a bunch of hippies” according to Adam Climer, a founder who described its development for the council via video. Its mission is to improve the city’s response to mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness.

The mobile teams combine a mental health specialist and an EMT to answer mental health incidents without police escorts. Climer noted that none of their team staff members or clients have ever been injured or killed in the program’s history of service. The program has been adopted in Denver, Oakland, Olympia and Portland. Climer said 86 percent of CAHOOTS calls do not require police response. The council voted 5-0 to approve further study while requesting a more specific set of mental health response options from staff.

Public comments on mental health crisis heard powerful testimony from the families of those killed by police. Isabella Collins, Quinto’s sister, told the council:

“I wish I hadn’t called police.”

Thorpe and other council members sought more mental crisis training for police and dispatchers.

The city’s acquisition of an armored military vehicle for use as a rescue vehicle brought heated discussion. The $685,000 MRAP, or mine-resistant vehicle, was gifted to the city by the Department of Defense. Torres-Walker said:

“We don’t need storm troopers marching through our community.”

Police Chief Tammany Brooks told the council the vehicle is used to protect officers from high-velocity gunfire in hostage situations or shootouts. The chief noted that the vehicle is used from 10 to 15 times a year.

Brooks said and Thorpe repeated several times:

“It is NOT a tank.”

A motion to ask staff to develop a new policy on the use and acquisition of military gear passed 3-2 with Thorpe, Torres-Walker and Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson in support. Council members Michael Barbanica and Lori Ogorchock opposed.

The council unanimously voted to move forward with a new body and dashboard camera system for the police department. The city manager will be asked to present proposals and pricing at a future meeting. Barbanica, a retired officer, brought up the need to include tasers in the body camera package but his motion failed by a vote of 3-2 although Brooks said he will be bringing a proposal for new tasers before the council in March.

Thorpe also aired a proposal that would require officers to supply their names, badge number, their reason for a stop and where to file a complaint.

He said:

“We need more transparency for the community, the people we serve.”

In response, Barbanica said:

“[Y]ou’re just asking for more complaints. You’ll have a hell of a time recruiting.”

Another lengthy discussion ensued over an independent police oversight commission. Brooks told the council he currently has one police sergeant in charge of internal affairs and community complaints. Thorpe emphasized that legal limits prevent such a body from pursuing personnel investigations. Brooks revealed during the meeting that he had begun hiring outside investigators, usually retired officers or lawyers, to pursue some police incident complaints.

Torres-Walker stressed that people want transparency and to be part of the review process. A motion passed 3-2 to ask staff to develop options for a citizen police oversight commission.

Barbanica proposed a motion to bar the city from hiring lateral police candidates who are subjects of active internal affairs investigations.

The council also voted unanimously to institute a new policy requiring immediate public and council reports of any police “major incident involving injury or death.”

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