Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and protests across the country, including in Cupertino, communities have been reevaluating the role of police forces.
While the Cupertino City Council recently passed a resolution of solidarity with the Black community, citizens demanded more action.
In response, the city set up a community forum for residents to question the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office. The event, held Monday evening on Zoom, provided that opportunity albeit in a COVID-19 restricted manner.
The event did not feature any telephone questions, apparently due to concerns over ‘zoom bombing’. Instead, organizers solicited questions over email and the in-event Q&A function. City Manager Deb Feng moderated the forum, with Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf also online.
Monday’s event was apparently the first in a series, with a second focused on students and teens coming in July.
Looking for ways to improve
Captain Rich Urena represented the County Sheriff’s Department, as he leads the substation in Cupertino.
Over the 90-minute event, Urena answered more than two-dozen questions on use of force, department policies, racial profiling and more.
From the beginning, Urena stressed that the department and its deputies are consistently working to build community trust.
“We stand in solidarity with the intent of the movement we are seeing nationwide,” Urena said. “What we want to do is really look at how we can improve our services.”
Urena also highlighted the extensive training the department undergoes.
“We are extensively trained on use of force.”
Urena did discuss the lengthy processes and documentation required around use of force. However, he did not discuss ways to revamp or reform that system.
The department has banned carotid restraints in recent weeks, and is revisiting the amount of excess military equipment in inventory.
Openness to including other entities in the process
Among the main goals of recent protests has been to have other, non-police, agencies respond to non-violent situations including mental health, homelessness, or disputes.
Urena expressed an openness to that devolvement, up to a point.
“We recognize that we may not be the best in dealing with certain calls for service,” Urena said. “For example, we are seeing many calls related to service for mental health.”
Urena was quick to say that the Sheriff’s office is the most responsive, and other agencies might not have capacity.
“A lot of organizations will not respond in a timely manner.”
According to the conversation, Cupertino spends approximately $15.5 million per year on its contract with the Sheriff’s Department. That is among the lowest in the region.