Residents Debate Police Presence in Schools

Burbank Police Commission Chairman Nidal Kobaissi, pictured here at a January meeting, presented a series of recommendations to the City Council this week, opening the door to hours of discussion.

On the same night the Burbank City Council designated February as Black History Month for the first time, the panel heard a commission’s recommendation to establish an annual appreciation day for local police officers.
The council quickly moved over the recommendation without adopting it, but some of the nearly 40 people who called during the public comment period for Tuesday’s meeting were frustrated it was included at all, pointing to Black History Month’s significance. It was one of several grievances expressed that night regarding the Police Commission’s recommendations.
The meeting, which stretched past midnight — forcing officials to push the planned discussion of homelessness to a future date — served as the culmination of months of work by the Police Commission to generate recommendations for the Burbank Police Department, a task the City Council charged the advisory body with following the death of George Floyd and widespread calls for police reform.
But when those recommendations were presented to the council, many residents took issue with their content, particularly with the advice that the school resource officer program — which assigns two specialized officers to the local school district — be retained or expanded. Several callers said they were concerned that the program intimidates and criminalizes students, particularly students of color, with some alumni saying they or their children had bad experiences with the officers.

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Police Commission Approves Recommendations to Council

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
The Police Commission voted on a number of recommendations this week to pass on to the City Council, largely advising that special police programs be kept and given more funding if possible.

The Burbank Police Commission voted this week to advise the City Council that special police initiatives be retained and that new commissioners not be required to be of a certain ethnicity, gender or occupation.
The decisions made on Wednesday came after several monthly meetings in which commission members heard presentations from the Police Department on a variety of topics, including use-of-force policy and the BPD’s Mental Health Evaluation Team program. The council charged the advisory board with discussing potential recommendations after the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests and calls for police reform.

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Panel Gathering BPD-Related Topics for Discussion

The city’s Police Commission is gearing up for a series of monthly discussions about the Burbank Police Department’s policies, though some commissioners also emphasized caution in responding to residents’ calls for reform.
The commission largely used Tuesday’s meeting to develop ideas for discussion at future meetings. Many of the topics were brought up by residents who called in during the public comment period.

Chief Scott LaChasse appeared at a Burbank Police Commission meeting on Tuesday, when the panel considered topics regarding the BPD that it could discuss throughout the year. Ideas included reviewing the Police Department’s use-of-force practices and disciplinary procedures.

For instance, some residents who called the commission asked the group to review the way the BPD responds to situations involving a person with a mental illness, suggesting that sending mental health professionals would be a more appropriate response then sending an armed officer.
Some also wanted the BPD, which publishes its use-of-force policy and annual complaints statistics on its website, to list a breakdown of arrest records by race. Others pushed for funding to be diverted from the department to other city agencies.
“I have only ever had positive experiences with BPD and I am grateful for the work you do,” said Katie Ward in a public comment made to commissioners by phone. “I also understand, however, that I am afforded privilege by virtue of my white skin that not everyone is afforded, so I am mindful that my experience isn’t the only one to consider as a member of this community.”
The Police Commission, which advises the City Council, cannot make policy decisions on its own — a fact commissioners emphasized during their Tuesday meeting. Continue reading “Panel Gathering BPD-Related Topics for Discussion”