By Bubba Fish

Someone I know recently asked me for urgent help finding a place to sleep for the night – he had been unhoused for a few months and getting by with the help of shelters and the occasional generosity of friends. I was out of town at a conference when he told me he was at the Culver City E-line station with a nearly dead cell phone. 

So I called Culver City’s promising new Mobile Crisis Team (MCT) which had just launched, the result of years of advocacy and the leadership of several local leaders. The service not only responds to mental health crises but can also help unhoused neighbors secure housing and homeless services. 

I was routed to voicemail; it was just after 6:00 p.m. and the MCT is only available Monday through Friday during business hours. I tried other means of engaging the city, but they were unable to make contact with this person. Luckily, I was able to reach a neighbor of mine who was kind enough to let him in to recharge his phone and feed him dinner. I sent him some funds, and he was able to find a motel room for the night.

The experience raised my level of concern about crises that happen in Culver City outside of weekday business hours, and how many more people could be helped if this vital service were available 24/7. Expanding the service would require additional funding, likely somewhere from the City’s $177M General Fund.

At their last meeting, the Culver City City Council was asked to approve a $140K contract with StarChase, a system of GPS trackers that the Culver City Police Department (CCPD) would be able to launch and stick onto cars during a pursuit to avoid a high-speed chase. Considering the obvious dangers posed by high-speed police chases racing through our communities, these trackers could seem like an appropriate solution. 

But the policy that the city council was asked to approve along with this contract would have allowed CCPD to use these GPS trackers far more broadly than just during a pursuit. As written, the policy would allow the trackers to be deployed on any car possessed by someone suspected of a felony or misdemeanor, even before an attempted stop is made.

The question of whether to approve the trackers prompted me to reflect on how the city invests large sums to expand the powers and arsenal of our police department. The expansion in funding from just the past two years is alarming. 

In July of 2022, two armored Ford transit vans were approved for $427,000.

This past May, a five-year contract for a new Automated License Plate Recognition system for $668,200 was approved.

Then in June, a Public Safety Equipment Replacement Reserve fund of up to a million dollars (primarily for police equipment) was created.

There have since been several community-led efforts to modernize our approach to public safety. One such effort, a General Plan Public Safety Element created by a citizen-led commission over several months, was up for adoption this past November. The draft plan laid out a modern, holistic vision of public safety and was based on more than 2,500 comments from community members. But the plan wasn’t adopted — instead, it was thrown out by the majority of the current city council, never to be seen again.

And now, the City was being asked to approve $140K on a brand new GPS tracking system that CCPD can deploy on any car it suspects of a felony or misdemeanor, with no warrant necessary.

The powers and arsenal of today’s police departments are nearly unrecognizable compared to those of even twenty years ago considering the degree of surveillance technology and military-grade weaponry now at its disposal. Per the last state-mandated report, CCPD owns military-grade weaponry to the tune of 10 surveillance drones, 125 assault rifles with 14,000 rounds, 50 flashbangs, 35 tear gas grenades, 7 pepper ball launchers with 4500 rounds, and 8 projectile launchers, which all require annual maintenance.

But what actually makes people feel safe? Is it GPS tracker launchers, license plate readers, and assault rifles? The answer is different based on who you talk to, but most people tend to agree on a few things:

Being housed feels safer than being unhoused. Having transportation to get to vital services feels safer than being immobile. Having access to mental and physical healthcare feels safer than going without care.

The vast majority of Angelenos agree: a recent survey conducted by LMU found that 78 percent of L.A. City respondents supported reallocating funds from LAPD to social workers, mental healthcare, and other social services. The numbers are unlikely to be much different for residents of neighboring Culver City.

But for decades, our city council has allocated the bulk of its focus and city funding to expanding the powers and the arsenal of our police department. 

I was relieved to see that the GPS tracking policy was not approved due to an atypical absence of a councilmember that night and the votes of Mayor McMorrin and Councilmember Puza who expressed concerns with the policy.

It is my hope that as a city, we can shift our resources and focus toward a vision of public safety centered on preventative care. We can accomplish this by investing in the health and safety of our communities with permanent supportive housing, safe streets with improved transit, and quality social services.

From our 73-unit Project Homekey site to our Mobile Crisis Team, I am inspired by the new systems of preventative care that Culver City has already been able to create. I hope we can work to double down on our commitments to these proven strategies in the coming years and continue to work towards a future where everyone in Culver City is welcome, safe, and cared for.

Bryan “Bubba” Fish is a Transportation Deputy for the County of Los Angeles, a Masters in Public Policy student at UCLA, and a candidate running for Culver City Council.

Photo by the City of Culver City.

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