Mental health services a key issue at Concord policing forum

Mental health services a key issue at Concord policing forum

Mental health services a key issue at Concord policing forum
Concord Police Chief Mark Bustillos started off the July 15 study session with a PowerPoint about the department’s budget and policies. Some callers objected to the Thin Blue Line flag visible in the background of his screenshot, while others said it was honorable to display. Bustillos said it is in remembrance of an officer who died under his command.

Speaker after speaker pleaded for more social service providers instead of armed officers during a July 15 virtual study session on policing in Concord.

“I am very surprised that 60 percent of our budget goes to police. It is disheartening,” said resident David M. “Mental health facilities are drastically underfunded. We need to reconsider our priorities as a society.”

Many residents called for more funding for homeless services, affordable housing, mental health care, youth services, food security, education, health care and racial justice – components of the agenda espoused by the new group Defund Concord PD.

About 40 people offered comments during the meeting, with more sending in emails. Many advocated for a citizens oversight group to investigate complaints against the police. Another common theme involved having mental health professionals respond to some 911 calls rather than police officers.

Kenji Yamada, who went through Concord’s Citizen Police Academy and a police ride-along in 2017, said he saw officers “doing a lot of adult baby-sitting” in civil stand-by situations.

“The skill set is not the ability to forcibly subdue an already violent person but rather the ability to mediate conflicts, hear people out and reduce tensions – the opposite skill set,” he told the council. “In other words, a situation better suited for social workers.

In a presentation earlier in the evening, Concord Police Chief Mark Bustillos said he was exploring a pilot program “to triage calls that are clearly not law enforcement calls.” His concept could involve a mental health clinician and staff from the homeless service CORE – “with a police officer standing back in case it goes south.”

Background from the chief

The special meeting, billed as the “first of many,” was part of the national conversation about police use of force and systemic racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

“We’ve heard from many people within our community who’d like a chance to discuss the police’s budget, policies and procedures,” Mayor Tim McGallian said. “Many of the comments reflected an understanding of the national debate on policing but do not take into account the differences in how our police department works under California law. I believe this would be helpful for all of us to have a basic understanding of how things work in our community.”

McGallian said he’s proud of the police department, which “maintains a great reputation in Concord. However, at the same time, we recognize there is always room for improvement.

“We’re here both to learn and listen,” he added. “This will be the first of many conversations.”

Mental health services a key issue at Concord policing forum
Part of Police Chief Bustillos’ power point presentation at the July 15 city council meeting.

Over 45 minutes, Bustillos dissected the police budget, outlined hiring and training practices, detailed the citizen complaint process and expanded on use of force policies. He said the department has banned carotid restraints, such as that used on Floyd in Minnesota, and no-knock warrants highlighted after the death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

He also spoke of ways his staff reflects the diversity of residents, community policing efforts and how the number of officers has dropped – even as Concord’s population continues to grow.

“We are leveraging technology so we can do more with fewer officers,” he said. “We’re here to build and strengthen our community and also at the same time to bring to justice those who victimize our residents.”

A multi-agency approach

All the members of the City Council expressed an interest in exploring more social service options – but not necessarily on the city’s dime or in lieu of police services.

“There’s been a lot of good things put out there, good questions that have been asked,” McGallian said. “The first thing that comes to mind when I see the list and the idea behind mental health, housing, youth services … that’s a pretty tall order in terms of trying to solve the problems that face us, really, as an entire nation. There’s no way our poor little budget in Concord is going to solve most of those.”

Mental health services a key issue at Concord policing forum
Concord City Council members in the online discussion with Chief Bustillos.

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister noted that many area mayors want to pursue countywide programs.

“What we need to do is find ways, working with our other partnering agencies, to work as a region to direct the resources where they’re needed and move it off the police department’s plate,” she said. “Let the calls for mental services and homeless service be handled by resources that can actually help them, move them in another direction and help them move forward in a positive way. Not taking away from police – but adding more funding in those areas.”

The mayor said the next step is to bring in representatives from the county, local non-profits and other community partners. He expects to have another study session sometime in August.

“But it all comes down to the funding mechanisms that need to be fixed, not just in the taxes collected here in Concord but the money that flows in from the county, state and federal government,” McGallian said. “And there are huge problems there.”

You can watch the entire July 15 Zoom meeting on the Concord City Council website.