Brave New World
Old ways won’t work as city moves ahead
By Jeff Harris
My high school history teacher came to class one day and said, “Unlearn what you have learned.” That was all he said for the day.
We made fun of him for weeks. Little did I know those words would stick with me for 50 years.
Implicit bias, sexism and systemic racism are real. They are not genetic conditions. Kids come into this world unfettered by petty jealousies, greed and anger. These behavioral traits are taught through history books, storytelling, actions, words and body language.
I have never met an adult who didn’t harbor some bias. It takes a lot of work to get rid of it. It’s way past time to unlearn what we have learned. Frankly, racism hasn’t changed since the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement. We just see it more on YouTube.
The protests this summer, sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a peace officer, are founded in anger and grief and recognition that in our country, freedom is not equally dispensed. There is not equal opportunity for all. But Sacramento is moving in a better direction. We are diversifying our city staff. We are determined to reflect the diversity of our city. The Sacramento Police Department is 42 percent diverse (meaning non-white males). Our recruitment through academy graduates is 69 percent diverse.
The changes are not immediate, but they will make a difference. We are making investments in our youth and underserved neighborhoods—not at the rate some people call for, but with substantial effort in the face of a pandemic and looming budget deficits. My city webpage contains a list of programs we have funded.
There is an outcry to defund the police. Obviously, protecting our citizens is the city’s primary duty. We are obligated to honor contracts that have been negotiated with the police union. These contracts were settled before the pandemic, when Measure U sales taxes brought in better-than-projected revenues. We were on track to issue a housing bond to get more workforce housing built to alleviate rental rate hikes.
We had lots of investments planned for youth and neighborhoods. The virus disrupted them. Sales taxes plummeted, but our costs have not changed. Core services must be maintained.
The good news is that we have $89 million in federal CARES Act money to stem some pain. These dollars will aid our businesses and workers. They will go toward projects to jumpstart our economy, with a focus on underserved communities. The City Council is making decisions to fund these efforts. As we recover from COVID-19 and sales taxes rebound, money will flow to Measure U projects.
In 2021, Sac Police will consume about 26 percent of our general fund—13 percent of the total budget. The SPD budget is $157 million. Since the Great Recession, we have pared back our police. In 2009, we lost neighborhood POP officers, vice and gang teams, and motorcycle traffic and parole intervention teams. We reduced responses to burglaries.
Until the last contract, SPD officers received as much as 23 percent less than nearby comparable agencies (today they are just below average). We have 1.35 officers per 1,000 residents, with a higher than average crime workload.
People often call me to ask why the police don’t respond to burglaries or other violations. The answer: In the last decade, we substantially defunded SPD. We have built back somewhat and added officers. Much of what they do is respond to homeless calls. Is that the best task for peace officers? No.
The City Council wants to move social service responses to a new delivery method. I am working with WellSpace Health to do behavioral health and methamphetamine response in an entirely different way. Changes are coming this year.
The protests were mostly peaceful, but a small number of people assaulted police and looted businesses. SPD showed restraint when pelted with insults, rocks, bricks and projectile fireworks. Officers sustained injuries. The City Council brought in the National Guard and placed a curfew to help restore safety.
In these tense moments, most protestors and cops did a good job. The result? The City Council heard the outcry. We will continue to make change as rapidly as possible given our current economic predicament.
Jeff Harris is City Council representative for District 3 and vice mayor of Sacramento. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.