By Miriam Raftery
June 25, 2020 (El Cajon) – El Cajon City Council members received hundreds of comments sent via email on the city’s proposed budget, nearly all weighing in on police funding following a nationwide wave of protests over police violence and racial injustice issues. Many of the commenters argued for “defunding” or shifting some funds away from police into investments in the community or alternatives to handle mentally ill and homeless people, though many others voiced support for El Cajon Police and supported increasing the department’s budget.
The Council unanimously voted for a $120,000 increase for the police.
“The motivation is to keep all the citizens safe,” Councilman Gary Kendrick told ECM.
Part of the funds will be used to hire a company to transport those arrested to the county jail downtown, allowing police to stay on the street. He says the majority of residents are concerned about police protection. “I don’t want to see another Seattle,” he said, referencing an anarchy zone set up in several Seattle blocks after police were forced out of their station by protesters. “I don’t want to have buildings burned down,” as happened during a riot May 30-31 in neighboring La Mesa.
Kendrick notes, “We’re a community of about 70 different ethnic groups and we get along extremely well. That’s why I started America on Main Street, to celebrate our diversity.”
The city drew criticism from some back in 2016, when Alfred Olango, an African immigrant, who suffered a mental health breakdown. Confronted by police, he pulled out a vaping device that resembled a gun and assumed a shooting stance. He was shot and killed by an ECPD officer, sparking protest marches, though the District Attorney later ruled the shooting was justifiable. (photo, right: Alfred Olango).
But Kendrick notes that ECPD officers have used non-lethal weapons to save lives in other tense situations. “There was a minority man who was going to throw his little boy over a pass above highway 67. They shot him with beanbags and were able to save the little boy without using guns.”
El Cajon has taken some steps to address calls for reforms. The city recently banned chokeholds by police. Officers now wear body cameras.
Officer Mike Murphy recently opted against arresting taggers, instead finding a place for them to create a work of art. (Photo left, via ECPD) Kendrick praises most ECPD officers as “kind-hearted” and says, "That's one of the reasons we don't hae problems like other jurisdictions. But he adds, “Everybody deserves to feel safe.”
But some disagree. Many sent variations of a form letter which noted that El Cajon uses 50% of its budget on police, but only 4% on community development and 11% on public works. “Public safety must include an investment in housing, health care, food, good jobs, education, free public transit and resources for small businesses,” Victor Brown of El Cajon wrote in his public comment. “As issues of police brutality and state violence against Black communities and communities of color are highlighted, we need to talk about what real safety looks like. Community safety is equitable access to housing and healthcare, ot tear gas and rubber bullets.”
His letter and many others called for reallocation a sizeable portion of police funds to create mental health resources independent from the police, adding, “We will never forget that Alfred Olango was murdered by police in 2016 for simply having an emotional breakdown. I ask that we decrease the police budget and invest in our communities by funding services that strengthen our communities.”
Summer Wappler, a homeowner and mother in El Cajon, noted that the homeless crisis is “out of control” noting, “We could offer drug counseling, temporary housing, ad job placement assistance.” She also called for “creating community safety and crisis officers, unarmed officers that can response to non-violent requests will help with the overload that our officers currently face.”
But other residents bristled at the thought of reducing funding for police. “I am appalled, disgusted,” Steve La Marca wrote. “I have interacted with ECPD folks for over 30 years and found them to be some of the best cops in the County.” He fears that if police were defunded, citizens would be left to fend for themselves when crimes occur. In addition, the notes, “I know agencies have a hard enough time recruiting and keeping officers, in this climate of hatred toward them.”
Carol Babbitt wrote, “I love our police. We need to support them,” adding that police are getting a “bad rap” because of “several rogue cops who should have been reprimanded and lost their jobs.”
Sarra T. Young denounced both the “tragic and horrifying misuse of power by Mineeapolis police officers against George Floyd” but also the “chaos, civil unrest, destruction, theft, arson and otherwise riotous activities” that ensued including the burning of buildings in La Mesa (photo, right, by Jake Rose). She views increasing tools and training for law enforcement as the solution to better policing.
Some sent in anonymous comments, including a student who wrote of facing discrimination in the school system in El Cajon, while another praised El Cajon police as “heroes.”