For nothing is either good or bad
But thinking makes it so
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
There is a saying, of sorts, perhaps many of you have heard it before. It goes something like this.
‘Wow, this would be a great job, if it weren’t for all the customers.’
Vallejo has a problem . . . too many customers. At least that is how it feels to me peering inside, into the brick façade of City Hall. I should clarify, lest I be blamed for attempting to master vagaries. We have a City structure that has a Council and a City Manager. The Council legislates, the City Manager administrates. We have a City Charter, which I have not yet read, (have you?) which outlines the legal authority of each body and office. In short, we elect our City Council and they, in turn, hire a City Manager. The Elected Council set priorities. The City Manager creates a budget in an attempt to meet those priorities. The Council votes to approve the budget or not. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum.
For the record, I have the deepest respect for our Council and the City Manager. Al of whom I have met, shaken their hands and most know me by my first name. (Whether or not they have the good taste to read local authors, I do not know.) I have sat with most either in Commission interviews, in their offices or on the street. I have spoken to them in depth and in passing, sometimes on the phone, most often on the street. Such is the bliss of a small town. I know each and every one to be an honorable person. So what I see happening now I find to be . . . shocking.
The City Council is overworked and certainly not adequately compensated for the time they commit to our City. The City Manager’s Office is understaffed and over worked, the same as our police force. We have recovered from one bankruptcy and may very well be looking at another. I am a simple man of simple means living with my peers in Vallejo. We only have so many resources to go around and so many needs and wants. Too many customers, not enough income. We live with a severe case of Economic Scarcity. British economist Lionel Robbins defined the discipline of economics in terms of scarcity: Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends, and scarce means . . .
I remember a particular lecture in Culinary School about survival. Hmm? Why would the topic of survival come up in a cooking school, you ask? The topic of the lecture was Grand Buffets, where they originated, what they should include and how to manage them. Out teacher, the former valet to the French President, painted this picture. “You have and endless buffet in front of you, to which you can return countless number of times. Yet there are still people who will overfill their plates out of a primal fear of not knowing when their next meal will come. So the gorge now in case they cannot eat tomorrow.” It is a primeval survival instinct born of scarcity.
“Tom,” you ask, “why must you walk us down such long roads? Can’t you just make your point so I can go back to Facebook?” No, life is complex and the answers to our troubles even more so. Yet recently I have seen our City Manager, a man whom I greatly respect, try to distract us with pretty pictures on the internet. UniteVallejo.net. Perhaps you have seen his video. While a very good idea in concept, it comes off as little more than smoke and mirrors, or worse yet Pablum, to a constituency hungry for substance. If only we would focus our attention on the positive then the negative would go away. I realize that your office is stressed Mr. Nyhoff, and that would very much just like a little room to breathe in order to manage all that you have on your plate. Still, I ask you not give in to your survival instincts. We customers, would rather skip this type of meal. Unfortunately I must draw attention again to our City Manager. This time his comments at a recent City Council meeting regarded the Use of Force by Vallejo PD. He did not feel that they were excessive.
Here in lies my conflict. I respect those who work hard for us, in this city. But I am having a very hard time with the silence and inaction around certain extremely important issues. Let me explain.
Something has happened in America and it started shortly after 9/11. It was called the Patriot Act. It suspended portions of our constitution, but worse yet, moved out moral compass away from humanity. Flower Power only held us for so long and the pendulum has swung back toward . . . I do not recognize what. I cannot even really define it. Basically we live in a time of a New Normal.
Our police force, whom I also respect very deeply, recently held a Use of Force Forum which I happily attended. We were given a thorough overview, in my opinion, of the case history defining the Use of Force for Police Departments. Captain Iacono was a passionate and well informed speaker. His mastery of the Use of Force protocols was evident. The department’s dedication and commitment to constantly train our officers was impressive. Under staffed and overworked, I can understand how easy it would be to operate in survival mode as a police officer in our town. The Norm has shifted. Courts, since the passage of the Patriot Act, have allowed greater discretion with regards to the Use of Force. Our police department is merely following the guidelines set forth by the courts. With this reference, Mr. Nyhoff was not wrong, I am sad to say.
My conflict? We are better than this. We are not just customers, consumers of this City’s resources. We are also the stewards of it. The Norm has shifted in our society and it is time for us to move it back, if that is what we want. It would be so easy for me to end my thoughts here, but that would be cheating. As I mentioned, if I know about a horror, even a small one, I become responsible for that knowledge. And if I say or do nothing, then I am a failure, a fraud, or worse yet someone who stood by while the atrocities happened.
Captain Iacono said something else, which disturbed me. He said, POST, California Peace Officer Standards and Training, did not offer De-escalation training guidelines. Everybody wanted it but nobody had it. I believe that he was correct but that is no longer the case. With some deep internet searching I found at least 2 organizations that offered this type of training. One was from POST, the other from Black Swan founded by Chris Voss a former FBI negotiator. I contacted Black Swan and was told that they were discontinuing that program. That it was too expensive for local governments to afford. (Black Swan mainly teaches negotiation, which is how I originally found them. Chris Voss is often heard saying, “No, is the beginning of the negotiation.” They said no and I kept writing letters. Captain Iacono wants more training, AB 392, redefining the Use of Force in California is including training in their language. So I wrote again and again. I presented conceivable options as to how Black Swan may offer an affordable training series. I got their attention, and just this week they promised to discuss my ideas.
Mayor, Council Members and Mr. Nyhoff, as a citizen with no power to negotiate, I was able to influence a well-respected firm, to reconsider offering their program that meets the concerns that both our officers and citizens have: More training in Tactical Negotiations (De-escalation.) The questions I now have for you are these:
How might we, the City of Vallejo, lead in the way in California on this issue?
How might we offer our hard working police officers the additional knowledge they need in order to do their jobs safely and provide them with different tactical approaches to public engagement?
What effect might it have on our limited resources of time, money and patience?
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my thoughts.
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Until next time,