“We’re not declaring victory in any areas at this point,” Mayor John McCauley said. “We’re just moving to accept the report in its current in state and and not put anything in concrete and let the process continue.”
The report was the latest spotlight on the City of Mill Valley’s 22-person Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force, which issued its full report and recommendations in the form of a 93-page document that spanned affordable housing, cultural and recreational engagement, economic opportunity, education and more.
In his report, Navarro described the recent past, the present and the hoped-for future for a wide range of police policies. There was some daylight between the City’s reported implementation status of the recommendations and that of the task force that morphed into the moniker MVFREE (Mill Valley Force for Racial Equity & Empowerment), specifically its Police Working Group, after the Council declined to establish the group as a City commission.
McCauley said the group’s massive investment of time and energy into these issues warranted them having a lengthier platform to weigh in. “This group did so much hard work in terms of drafting the document in the first place,” he said. “They are seriously looking at this and we should avail ourselves to their passion and hard work.”
One of those members, longtime Mill Valley resident Tammy Edmonson, delivered a report to the Council Monday night, saying that while “MVFREE saw our report as a floor, the City saw it as a ceiling.” She noted Navarro’s engagement with the group to date and his assurance that “he views this report as an early update and that he remains committed—as we are—to the long-term work necessary to achieve racial equity, community trust and legitimacy in the MVPD. The PWG is prepared to hold the chief, and ourselves, accountable in that effort,” she said.
The PWG’s detailed report went through each of the 12 recommendations, noting its views on the implementation status and how it could be more comprehensive. For instance, Navarro said the implementation of the tools spurred by AB 953: The Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), which requires California law enforcement agencies to begin “collecting and reporting data on complaints that allege racial or identity profiling,” was well on its way to easily meet the deadline for RIPA data collection of June 2023.
“Of course, the data collection and reporting is not an end in itself. Critical next steps include: developing protocols for regular data analysis; identifying and implementing targeted remedial strategies and providing for ongoing assessments to measure progress and ensure accountability,” the PWG members wrote.
“Bias by proxy” – cases in which civilians racially profile a person and call the police to intervene, despite frequent lack of any crime committed – also calls for additional heavy lifting, the group stated. “We appreciate that the MVPD relies on the Sheriff’s Department to dispatch calls, which limits its ability to identify and address bias-based calls at the dispatch phase, the group wrote. “However, these RIPA recommendations apply to responding officers, not merely to dispatchers. We anticipate that the Sheriff’s Department and other neighboring police agencies will be increasingly amenable to MVPD recommendations for alleviating bias-based policing as these agencies begin to grapple with the racial disparities reflected in their own data.”
Navarro said those unfortunate interactions required a light touch by police called to an incident spurred by a biased resident. “It’s a foundation of principal policing that officers must take the time to explain why they were contacted, detained or stopped,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, once you give them an explanation and treat them with respect and give them a voice, there’s an understanding.”
Councilman Jim Wickham hailed Navarro’s efforts in the short period of time since he was hired in February, but also said he should try to set an example for deeper engagement within the community. “The police chief needs to live in Mill Valley,” he said. “We can all do better and it comes down to leadership and to this council being out in the community and being open.”
“One thing I didn’t want to have is some report that says we checked those boxes and put it on the shelf,” McCauley said. “We have not taken that approach.”
All of the community’s DEI work over the past 10 months has largely been driven by the community’s interest in making Mill Valley a safer, more welcoming place for all residents and visitors But it’s also been propelled by the ongoing national conversation around police killings of Black people. The latest example of that was the recent shooting of 20-year-old Duante Wright by a 26-year veteran of the police force who claims she shot Wright with her gun instead of a Taser by accident. That tragedy occurred amidst the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Officer accused of killing George Floyd, whose death sparked a series of peaceful protests both here in Mill Valley and all over Marin and the world in the spring and summer of 2020. Chauvin was found guilty on all counts by a jury on April 20.