Western Regional Office
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Regional and Field Offices
Western Region Case Highlights
In October 2019, Phoenix city officials and local law enforcement requested that CRS facilitate a dialogue to help restore trust and address the longstanding history of tension between police and the Latino community. Throughout FY 2019, CRS worked with Black community leaders to address similar tensions and concerns over racial targeting and the subsequently strained relations between the Black community and law enforcement.
Tensions escalated in the Phoenix, Arizona, community following the release of a video in May 2019 showing police officers arresting a Black family while using what appeared to be excessive use of force. CRS worked to coordinate the city’s first public listening session, ensuring it would be a safe space where both Black and Latino community groups felt comfortable openly voicing their concerns. At the session, Black and Latino communities expressed concerns over the city’s lack of accountability for the police officers’ actions. The participants and facilitators formed a working group, a coalition of community members, to work together on longer-term community engagement strategies and propose solutions to Phoenix city officials.
Throughout October and November 2019, CRS met with city officials to clarify core community concerns raised during the listening session, identify potential community facilitators, and discuss the format and design for an upcoming facilitated dialogue. CRS also convened concerned Latino community members and local Latino organizations to gather their feedback and suggestions on strategies to improve police-community relations. In January 2020, CRS met with a group of law enforcement representatives and Latino community members in Phoenix to share best practices and community engagement strategies for listening to and quelling concerns of the Latino community in a non-violent fashion, as well as to plan facilitator training and community dialogue in inclusive locations around the city. CRS provided facilitator training to volunteers selected by members of the planning group and the working group formed in 2019. In February 2020, in coordination with Phoenix city officials, law enforcement, and Latino community organizations, CRS facilitated dialogue with approximately 50 participants from the monolingual Latino community divided into small groups. A CRS conciliation specialist or CRS-trained volunteer facilitated each of the small group discussions in Spanish. Participants discussed issues, including language barriers, lack of police officer accountability, and the need for police training on diversity and culture. Participants also identified solutions, including improvements to training for police officers and changes to police policy for strengthening police-community relations and addressing concerns about unfair treatment of the Latino community.
In April 2020, a police officer fatally shot a 33-year-old Black man who was carrying a baseball bat around a local superstore in Northern California. The officer later received charges for felony manslaughter. The victim’s family stated that he lived with schizophrenia and bipolar depression and had experienced a mental health crisis the day he died. Black civil rights advocates, community leaders, and a local civil rights group requested CRS consultation and facilitation services to address community members’ concerns over the impact of the shooting, allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement, and the role of race and mental illness in the incident. The victim’s death sparked community protests alleging the excessive use of force was unjustified and racially biased.
To open lines of communication and facilitate the voicing of concerns surrounding the shooting, CRS facilitated dialogues in April and May with city officials, law enforcement officials, a national civil rights organization, Black community leaders, civil rights advocates, and community organizations. During an April meeting, a police official discussed the release of the official police video that captured the sequence of events leading to the shooting to increase transparency with the community throughout the process. Meeting participants from a local civil rights group agreed to assist in rumor control by educating their members about the incident as captured on the video and clarifying any questions surrounding other videos circulating on social media.
In May 2020, CRS facilitated a virtual dialogue with city officials, law enforcement, Black community leaders, and civil rights advocates. The 40 participants identified issues, such as the need to address the trauma and mental stress on the Black community caused by the shooting, and solutions, including racial sensitivity training for the police, training for interactions with individuals suffering from a mental health crisis, and a moratorium on protests by community advocacy groups until the completion of the police investigation.
In subsequent sessions in August and September, the parties continued identifying concerns, discussed ways to improve police-community relations, and formed four sub-working groups, led by a local civil rights group, focused on: the city, including rebranding efforts and retelling the story of the community; local youth, including advising the city on youth-related topics; police reform policy; and contingency planning for responding to future protests.
In the aftermath of the facilitated dialogues surrounding the shooting of the victim, coupled with the growing tensions nationwide over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, community members began working toward longer-term changes in the city and the police department. Following the CRS-led facilitated dialogues, the city became the first in its county to implement the pilot program, the “Community Assessment Treatment and Transport Team,” or CATT, as a new county policing model. These teams of mental health crisis professionals and emergency medical technicians dispatch work alongside law enforcement and other first responders, as needed, to help individuals suffering from a mental health crisis as part of a mobile crisis response system. In addition, to continue working toward changing negative perceptions associated with the city, city officials began rebranding and updating the city’s website to highlight its positive aspects, including its history and diversity, and to retell the story of the city.
CRS provided consultation services and facilitated two dialogues with city officials, a local police department, and local faith and community leaders from a city in Northern California, as a continuation of services that began in 2019, following the police-involved shooting of a young Black man. Already strained police-community relations increased after the shooting, resulting in community protests and outrage directed toward the city and law enforcement, with community groups alleging racial profiling and police excessive use of force.
After the city’s public announcement of an initiative to bring the community together and address a range of their concerns, including strained police-community relations and racial tensions, CRS formed a working group composed of faith leaders, community organizations, educators, local business leaders, and the arts community to support the initiative’s efforts. Toward the end of 2019, CRS provided consultation services to city officials, law enforcement, and the working group to develop a series of structured dialogues titled “Community and Police Conversations on Racial Environments (CAPCORE),” designed to provide feedback to the city and police department to inform the revamping of local police procedures and policies. CRS also assessed community concerns, perspectives, and priorities in various parts of the city to facilitate a better understanding of police-community relations throughout the city and to structure the dialogues to include the communities’ input.
In February 2020, CRS facilitated two interactive CAPCORE dialogues with approximately 30 participants, including one dialogue with 15 interfaith community leaders and another with 15 community leaders representing businesses, education, youth, neighborhood organizations, and social service organizations. During the dialogues, participants shared feedback as they discussed questions that the city, police department, and community stakeholders had helped formulate. The questions focused on participants’ perceptions of the city, values they wanted to see displayed through policing, and the most effective methods of police outreach.
The facilitated dialogue with the community leaders brought out concerns surrounding racial tensions and policing perceptions of bias. Participants identified possible solutions, such as the need for including neighborhood associations in policy and planning, training on racial bias and de-escalation for officers, exploring less lethal force options, increasing outreach to non-emergency contacts, and enhancing recruitment efforts to make a diverse force. In the interfaith dialogue, participants provided feedback to the city, police department, and community organizations on their congregations’ perceptions of bias. They also agreed to make officer complaint forms available to their congregations and conduct training with the community on how to complete and file the forms.
Interfaith and community leader participants found the facilitated dialogues helpful for strengthening police-community relations in the city. The police department also used input from the discussions to help revise its policies and practices. The community developed plans to continue holding dialogues in 2021 and collecting and sharing feedback with the police department.
In June 2020, CRS received a request from a city in Southern California to address community members’ concerns about perceived bias-based incidents against Black residents. Earlier that month, after several protesters allegedly threw objects at the police, police fired pepper balls at peaceful protesters demonstrating in solidarity in response to national calls for police accountability in the death of George Floyd. In city council meetings in June and July, Black community members expressed concerns about neighbors allegedly calling the police, without reason, on Black people occupying public spaces.
In response, an elected city official pledged to conduct a community dialogue and work with law enforcement to review their use-of-force policy. CRS provided consultation services to city officials to help determine the appropriate actions to engage residents and address their concerns. CRS led calls with city officials throughout June, July, and August to share information about CRS services and methods that other cities used to address similar issues. CRS also helped the city identify goals to shape its approach, offered input on how to format a community dialogue, and shared guiding questions for conducting a productive review of law enforcement policies. Based on CRS’s consultation, the city conducted two virtual community dialogues in September 2020, led by an outside facilitator, with the recording later posted publicly on the city’s website. During the dialogue, community members discussed their personal experiences with racial discrimination and shared ideas for improving inclusivity. Participants suggested diversity and inclusion training for city staff, violence prevention programs for youth, and a city commission on equity for listening to community concerns. The city created a new council subcommittee on equity and inclusion that met quarterly, with meeting attendance open to the public to offer their input and recommendations on improving equity and inclusivity in the city. The city also began working with law enforcement to review its use-of-force policy. CRS continues to provide consultation services to the city as needed.
On April 27, 2019, on Shabbat and the final day of Passover, a gunman opened fire inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue, killing one worshiper and wounding three others. The attack struck fear in Southern California’s Jewish faith communities already attempting to recover from a bias-motivated arson at nearby mosque in Escondido. In addition, tensions in Poway’s faith communities were already elevated due to the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shooting the prior month and the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that happened exactly six months prior to the attack in Poway.
In the attack’s aftermath, community members asked CRS to help with their efforts to strengthen community safety, especially in and around places of worship, and to find long-term solutions so congregants could worship safely. Poway community members sought a space to heal from the attacks and opportunities to address their safety concerns while protecting places of worship in interfaith and faith-specific settings.
Soon after the Poway shooting, law enforcement connected one alleged attacker to both the shooting and the arson through online posts in which he took responsibility for both crimes and claimed inspiration from the Pittsburgh and New Zealand incidents.
In early May 2019, CRS convened the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California (USAO-SDCA), Muslim community leaders, local mosque leaders, and interfaith coalition members to assess community tensions, identify concerns, and share best practices for addressing hate crimes and protecting houses of worship. CRS worked as part of the Federal government’s interagency response to the shooting, which involved the USAO-SDCA, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other federal and state agencies.
San Diego area interfaith communities agreed to host a Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes forum. Dialogue participants believed that the region’s strong interfaith communities and increased ability to respond to hate crimes would lead to a successful program. The August 2019 forum, led by the USAO-SDCA, in conjunction with local Muslim community members and interfaith coalition, brought together the region’s interfaith communities to increase their local capacity to prevent and respond to hate crimes.
In June 2019, city officials requested that CRS provide consultation and other services to help city leaders address community members’ longstanding frustrations with the city and police department, especially the frustrations of African American and Latino residents. Law enforcement-community relations in Phoenix had been strained, partly because of the findings of a study that had been commissioned by local law enforcement officials. The study, which concluded that Phoenix led the United States in fatal officer-involved shootings, had been extensively covered by local media.
Tensions had been further heightened in May 2019 when bystanders recorded video of local law enforcement officers arresting an African American family, including two young children. The video spread widely, first on social media and then in news reports, and showed officers drawing their weapons and making what some interpreted as threatening remarks to the family. The family, other members of the African American community, and community organizations alleged that the police escalated the situation and used excessive force in comparison to the alleged incident, which was the theft of a doll from a store by the four-year-old child. Concerns were raised that the family’s race was a factor in the case.
An incident report released by the police stated that while officers responded to an unrelated shoplifting call, witnesses made allegations to the officers that the family had taken merchandise from the store without paying. The city and law enforcement officials released public statements of concern due to the disproportionality of the officers’ response compared to the alleged crime.
CRS provided consultation services to city and law enforcement officials immediately following the incident that included providing best practices for community engagement, particularly during the first days following a critical incident. Throughout June 2019, CRS continued to support city officials and the police department, providing best practices for holding effective listening sessions to address community concerns.
The city held the first public listening session for more than 3,000 attendees at a large, historic African American church. The city and CRS jointly coordinated with the city’s African American pastors to participate in the session and create an environment conducive to open communication. At the session, African American and Latino community members described experiences of excessive force by law enforcement, allegedly due to the victims’ race or national origin. Both community groups expressed concern that the city was not holding the officers accountable for their actions and that city officials were not acting transparently to thoroughly address the concerns.
The city held its regularly scheduled city council meeting the day following the listening session. CRS advised the city on methods to structure the meeting and provided contingency planning support and best practices for handling the anticipated large crowds.
The June listening session and council meeting were successful steps forward for the community. The city and law enforcement officials asked CRS to provide additional support for their efforts to impact lasting improvements in the city’s law enforcement-community relations. CRS trained facilitators to conduct a July community-led listening session, which was intended to clarify proposed solutions to the community concerns shared at previous listening sessions and city council meetings. While CRS provided on-site support, the facilitators planned their efforts to take the work product developed and meet with other city parties, including the city’s ad hoc committee that reviews community oversight of local law enforcement.
The fatal police shooting of a well-known musician in February 2019 caused sustained protests in the city of Vallejo, California. Police allegedly found the African American man asleep in his car with a gun on his lap in the drive-through of a fast food restaurant in Vallejo. Police body cameras captured the shooting; the footage shows police requesting him to put his hands up and then firing 55 rounds into the car.
In the weeks following the shooting, the community protested and expressed outrage at the city and police department. The city requested CRS services to ease the racial tension and strained law enforcement-community relations. In May 2019, CRS provided consultation services to city officials to begin discussing best practices in response to the fatal police shooting.
CRS formed a working group with representatives of the city’s diverse communities, including faith leaders, community organizations, educators, local business leaders and the arts community. The working group developed the “Unite Vallejo” initiative to address a range of community concerns, including race and policing, in a way that would bring the community together. As a part of the initiative, CRS facilitated seven dialogue sessions, including geographically distributed racial dialogues to gain feedback on community perceptions on policing. The city planned to use the feedback from the dialogues to inform the search for a new chief of police.
After the initiative launched, CRS provided additional consultation services to city and police officials to help ensure the sustained success of “Unite Vallejo” and to discuss the initiative’s next phase, which included hiring the new chief of police. As a part of the implementation of this next phase, CRS facilitated listening sessions with residents, during which they identified the skills and experience they believed necessary for a new chief. These skills included expertise with internal affairs, community policing, and diversifying law enforcement. CRS also facilitated dialogues with city leaders to identify their needs for the new chief of police, which included experience with news media.
A college in Los Angeles, California, has a history of protests from African American students over perceived racial bias from school administrators. In November 2015, a group of students took over the college’s administration building with a list of demands to address their concerns. Two years later, tensions continued with students alleging that the college did not properly protect students of color from discrimination on campus.
In the midst of these tensions, a group at the college that was focused on civic engagement contacted CRS for assistance in creating a Race and Human Relations Accountability Board on campus. The vision for the board was to serve as an independent body - composed of students, faculty, staff, and college officials - responsible for identifying and addressing incidents, patterns, and practices impacting race and human relations on campus. Throughout October 2017, CRS provided technical assistance to a group of students, faculty, and staff to develop a practical framework for the board - including a mission, vision, goals, and processes - for multiple stakeholders to collaboratively address race-based conflicts on campus.
In the spring of 2018, the college group presented the model for the board to college officials. CRS continues to monitor the situation and provide further assistance, as needed.
In June 2017, CRS provided onsite facilitation and consultation services to local law enforcement, city officials, and event organizers during a “March Against Sharia” protest in Roseville, California. In response to the event, counter-protestors planned to hold their own event, which raised concerns of potential violence and confrontations between the opposing groups. CRS provided consultation services to local law enforcement that assisted in the creation of a contingency plan that separated the groups and minimized potential violence. Specifically, this contingency plan included separating the three opposing groups — “anti-fascist” groups, a faith-based unity group, and supporters of the “March Against Sharia” — on three different street corners with no pedestrian traffic allowed in the street between them. CRS services aided law enforcement and demonstrators to conduct a safe and lawful event.