OPINION by JIM HILL
“Arroyo Grande looks at police practices after protests” –The Tribune, June 14.
The Tribune article would be more accurately titled “Arroyo Grande City Council gave no thought to police practices until after protests.” Fortunately, their lack of interest didn’t engender catastrophic results, such as the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In fact, the Arroyo Grande Police Department itself has thoughtfully reviewed its own practices over the past several years, which is why it has an excellent reputation for fairness, professionalism, community involvement, and respect for all.
“We need to confront the systemic racism and inequalities that continue to plague our country”, Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom said. “We must act so that no more lives are lost.” The Arroyo Grande council will look at ways to “not only continue to diversify police forces, but also to provide more nuanced racially sensitive training.”
Apparently the Arroyo Grande council is uninformed about the diversity currently present in their police department. Mayor Ray Russom seems to conflate Arroyo Grande Police officers with those few in other jurisdictions who have caused tragic losses of life. One might as well conflate Caren Ray with James Earl Ray.
During my recent terms as mayor, I spent several days and nights riding along with Arroyo Grande officers on patrol and have been immensely impressed with the care and diligence they bring to the job and the fairness and respect with which they treat those they encounter. In the wake of budget cuts and short staffing, our officers are called upon to be social workers, peace-keepers, mental health responders, and yes, even crime stoppers.
After seeing all the roles our police are routinely expected to fill with the utmost degree of professionalism, I have advocated to the SLO County Board of Supervisors for more mental health resources in order to better facilitate that part of the job police officers are now doing. Unfortunately, that has not been successful to date. Perhaps our council might consider joining that advocacy.
The council’s sudden concern for increased topical training for police rings hollow after budget cuts to the department followed self-promoted pay raises for the mayor and council. Will they at least now vote to increase the police budget? One can only hope.
In the past week, one of our officers was wounded by an armed murderer while assigned to Paso Robles protecting citizens from that threat. Mayor Ray Russom would do well to consider the outstanding job done by Arroyo Grande’s Police Department in unpredictably dangerous circumstances. She should start by providing adequate funding to support that work, and advocating for additional mental health funding at the County level.
This is not the time for self-gratifying me-too rhetoric from the mayor and council. Our police department supports this community in countless ways and they deserve our support as well.