By Shawn Raymundo
Dozens of local surfers on Wednesday, June 10, took to San Clemente’s waters for a paddle out and memorial as part of ongoing peaceful protests against the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died while in Minneapolis police custody.
San Clemente’s surf community united with the dozens of other demonstrators who had gathered at the pier to pay tribute to Floyd, as well as join in the nationwide demand to defund the police—a rallying cry for sweeping law enforcement reforms and the reduction of police budgets so more money can be spent on other services.
“We are seriously beginning the conversation around the reallocation of funds from police, a militant police sort of structure, to have money put back into the school system, social work, mental health, and really serve and protect the communities that they’re supposed to be out here for,” said Encinitas resident Mali Woods-Drake, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s protest.
This week’s demonstration at the San Clemente Pier marked the latest in a continuous string of rallies, mostly peaceful, held throughout the nation since Floyd’s death back on May 25, when a police officer had pinned Floyd to the ground by placing a knee on the 46-year-old’s neck.
Video recordings captured the scene showing Derek Chauvin, a White officer, keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. All the while, Floyd could be seen gasping for air while pleading that he couldn’t breathe.
Chauvin, who had more than 18 years of service with the Minneapolis Police Department, has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers involved in the arrest, who didn’t intervene—Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao—have also been fired and charged with aiding and abetting in Floyd’s death.
In the aftermath, massive protests have sprung up in numerous cities and communities demanding justice for Floyd, as well as an end to racial injustice and police brutality. One message that has rung throughout the protest and gotten increasingly louder is the call to defund the police.
Requests for comment to OCSD were not responded to as of this posting. But on Tuesday, June, 9, the department issued a press release, which largely addressed the topic of police practices and use-of-force policies.
“The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is committed to transparency about law enforcement budgets, policies and practices,” OCSD’s release said.
RESPONSE TO DEFUND THE POLICE
Despite increasing calls to defund the police—which for many has meant less spending on law enforcement, while for others it means a complete disbandment of departments—both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have come out against such an endeavor.
The subject of defunding the police has drawn strong rebuke from conservative voices, especially President Donald Trump who said “there won’t be any dismantling of our police” during a meeting with law enforcement officials this week.
Even his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee for the Democratic ticket in the election this fall, has rebuffed the protesters’ demand to cut or reduce funding for police departments.
“I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community,” Biden said in an interview with “CBS Evening News” earlier this week.
However, some cities have expressed a willingness to consider budget reductions such as Los Angeles and New York City.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed to cut between $100 million and $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department’s budget, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’s committed to reduce funding for the police, redirecting those monies to youth programs.
And in Minneapolis, its city council recently announced plans to disband the police department and reallocate the funds into community-based public safety programs.
Acting San Clemente Mayor Laura Ferguson has been a staunch opponent against cutting the city’s spending on public safety, particularly its contract with OCSD. Ferguson spoke with San Clemente Times on Friday, June 12, to explain her position on the topic of defunding police.
“I certainly do not support defunding law enforcement police by any means,” Ferguson said, after stressing that many in the community, including herself, were upset after seeing the actions of the police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest.
“I’m 100% behind condemning police brutality where it exists completely … but these (Minneapolis police) officers also are no way representative of law enforcement across the nation,” she said. “It’s a case-by-case basis in terms of how we do these reforms … we shouldn’t just do them now because of what happened with the death of an individual at the hands of police officers. We shouldn’t be treating all law enforcement officers as the enemy.”
Video: Shawn Raymundo and Jane, a contributor
This fiscal year, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department operated with a budget of roughly $747.2 million—about 48% of the county’s expenses for public protection programs. In total, this fiscal year, the county appropriated more than $1.54 billion of its $6.83 billion budget on public protection programs.
Asked whether she was willing to reevaluate the county’s budget for OCSD and whether those monies should be reallocated for other programs, such as those meant to address homelessness—an ongoing countywide issue—OC Board Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she’s “constantly looking at how we manage taxpayer dollars across all departments, including OCSD.”
“Public safety is one of my top priorities and (OCSD) does a tremendous job of policing our community and keeping our residents safe,” Bartlett said in an emailed response.
“There is no doubt there is a need for services to support homelessness and mental health, but there is also a need for public safety,” she said. “The county’s homelessness response is wide-spread across multiple County departments, including OCSD. It is not the responsibility of one specific department to execute our many programs and services designated for the homeless and mentally ill populations. With that, funding for those programs and services is appropriately distributed.”
The county’s budget for community services programs in Fiscal Year 2019-2020 amounted to $2.82 billion. The county’s Department of Child Support Services, Health Care Agency and Social Services Agency falls under the umbrella of community services.
The protests’ call to defund the police comes at a time in San Clemente when spending on OCSD is expected to increase in the coming fiscal year. The city’s proposed budget for FY 2020-2021 has an $18.5 million appropriation for police services—a little more than a quarter of the city’s total planned general fund expenditures and up from the $17.3 million allocated in the current fiscal year’s adopted budget.
Though the current fiscal year is set to expire at the end of the month, councilmembers have yet to pass the FY 2021 budget. Deliberations broke down during their previous meeting on June 2, when councilors remained divided over moving forward.
The council will meet on Tuesday, June 16, to consider the city’s contract renewal with OCSD, as well as a continuing resolution for interim expenditures meant to ensure the city’s essential services and payroll for staff continue past the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.
Ferguson said she stands by her position not to cut funding in the city’s police services budgets, noting that OCSD has been understaffed in San Clemente and doesn’t want to see it reduced.
“I believe in maintaining what we have right now in terms of the police funding because I think we’re finally in a good place … so I wouldn’t want to see us lose that momentum,” she said, further adding, “I can say with confidence now that I don’t want to reduce funding. We’ve played catch up. We’re where we need to be at now.”
According to the city’s proposed service contract with OCSD for FY 2021, staffing would remain the same compared to the current fiscal year, with 53 OCSD personnel stationed specifically in San Clemente—excluding regional and shared officers.
In FY 2018-2019, OCSD’s staff level for San Clemente was at 49, composed of mostly deputy sheriffs, which amounted to 33 officers. Personnel grew the following fiscal year, when San Clemente had 37 officers stationed here.
When asked whether she agreed with the protestors that some of the monies for police services should be redirected toward more homeless advocacy programs, specifically here in San Clemente, Ferguson said the city has been dedicating resources to the issue locally.
“I definitely think our city has done its share and continues to do so to address homelessness and other social services,” she said. Ferguson also added, “I believe we do that quite satisfactorily here in San Clemente and we certainly won’t let up on homelessness.”
The council on Tuesday is expected to finalize an amendment to the city’s homeless outreach services contract with City Net, which is funded through a Community Development Block Grant. The contract is set to increase to $137,494—up from the $62,494 previously spent since December 2019—and be extended through Feb. 28, 2021.
In terms of general fund monies, the city appropriated $72,437 toward social services in FY 2019. This fiscal year, the city allocated $99,840. For the upcoming fiscal year, funding for social services is being reduced to $23,090—a 77% decrease from FY 2020.
With the exception of public safety spending, the city cut costs to all departments in the proposed budget to address anticipated revenue shortages as a result of the public health crisis.
During Wednesday’s protest, Woods-Drake, whose boyfriend resides in San Clemente as an Orange County firefighter, said that her group of organizers want to see the immediate creation of police budget task forces comprising city officials and residents, particularly African Americans.
“Our urge is to have a task force created immediately, made up of citizens, especially Black voices in the community, and city councilmembers, to figure out where the best places to reallocate the money,” Woods-Drake said.
“The reality is, most of our city councils are entirely White, and so we want to make sure there’s a voice at the table that can say where those funds can best be reallocated towards,” she continued.
Ferguson noted that the city currently has a Human Affairs Committee, tasked with assessing needs and issues in San Clemente, including homelessness. And most recently a Public Safety Committee was created, comprising public safety professionals and experts.
“I think that would be a good task for the Public Safety Committee that’s going to be underway … I think this would be a great assignment to undertake,” Ferguson said of reviewing public safety budgets, adding, “I believe in oversight; having community involvement … I think we should have that in other areas of the city as well.”
While most policymakers and police departments appear to not support defunding, there have been recent steps toward other reform measures such as banning certain types of use-of-force tactics including the chokehold, which has been widely criticized in recent years.
This week, the New York State Assembly passed legislation banning officers from using chokeholds. The anti-chokehold measure was named after Eric Garner, another unarmed Black man who was killed after an officer had placed him in a chokehold.
Back in 2014, New York City police officer Daniel Panteleo used a chokehold on Garner, who officers had stopped on suspicion of illegally selling loose cigarettes. Videos of the incident show Garner repeatedly stating, “I can’t breathe.” Panteleo was fired from the department but federal prosecutors opted not to bring charges against him.
OCSD on Tuesday noted that its deputies do not use chokeholds, or strangleholds, nor are they trained or authorized to do so.
“Deputies are not trained, nor authorized, to place their knee or bodyweight on a subject’s neck,” OCSD added in its release, referring to the manner in which Floyd was killed.
In its release, OCSD announced that it had suspended its use of the carotid control hold, effective immediately, as the department is “evaluating its use and effectiveness as a compliance tool.”
The carotid control hold is a neck compression technique to render a person unconscious by restricting the flow of blood to the brain.
Further touching on its policies, OCSD goes on state that an important component and preferred method of the department’s policing is de-escalation. The department also said deputies are trained to warn people before using their firearm, when feasible.
According to OCSD, deputies are required to report all uses of force. The report is reviewed by a sergeant, lieutenant and division commander.
“This multi-layered review process ensures the opportunity to take corrective action or provide additional training in any instance where use of force was not properly applied,” OCSD said in the release.
OCSD reports that in 2019, there were 421 cases where deputies engaged in use-of-force methods out of the 356,598 public interactions. Out of the 421 cases, nine of them fell to Internal Affairs to investigate possible inappropriate use-of-force, according to the department.
“The Department guards against bias, diligently governs how we use force, and holds accountable deputies who betray the public trust,” OCSD’s release said. “Data demonstrates that (OCSD) has a long-standing commitment to professionalism and integrity in our delivery of safety services.”
The death of Floyd back on Memorial Day has not only increased calls for more police accountability, and inflamed longstanding tension between the African American community and law enforcement, but has also highlighted racial divides in the U.S.
Over the last three weeks, African American demonstrators have used the protest as an opportunity to bring further awareness to the disparity in which they and other people of color are generally viewed and interacted with compared to White Americans.
While overcoming her fear of public speaking on Wednesday, Haley Slovenec, 21, of San Clemente touched on her experience growing up half-Black in a predominately White community.
“Being biracial in a small predominantly White town presented various instances where my identity was manipulated to best fit what my peers needed at a specific time,” she said in her speech. “If a racial joke was made, I wasn’t to be affected because I was White. But my colleagues needed to prove they weren’t racist, so I was introduced to their friends as ‘this is Haley, my Black friend,’ which was met with their giggles and my uncomfortable silence.”
Though she doesn’t dislike San Clemente, Slovenec noted that, depending on the color of one’s skin, the city has created different experiences for people. She said she wanted to speak during the protest because she cared about “making a real and lasting change in our town.”
“Racism is still alive and well and it’s going to take active anti-racism to combat it so that people who look like me don’t have to live in a state of constant fear,” she said. “We can all make a pledge to take the necessary steps and play our individual roles to cultivate an inclusive community here in San Clemente.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.