Blog Series: Reimagining City Services
We are living in extraordinary times. As a community, we are grappling with health, economic, environmental, and social challenges all at the same time. As a City organization, we are evolving to meet your needs.
To build a community where every person can thrive, we have to have the right staff, providing the right services, with the right resources. We are taking a fresh look at what services we provide and how we provide them. We invite your feedback as we reimagine city services.
Through this Blog Series: Reimagining City Services, we will be highlighting how we are reimagining public services in light of evolving community needs and limited financial resources. This post focuses on public safety services, the bedrock of local government. Future posts will focus on the City Council’s top priorities — housing, transportation, and children and youth — as well as equity and climate action. We are fortunate that Redwood City has a diverse and informed community, and we welcome your ideas and innovative spirit. Local government is a place you can make a difference on issues that matter to you.
In light of evolving community needs and limited financial resources, Redwood City is re-examining traditional practices, ingrained assumptions and established norms that might limit our vision for transforming municipal services.
We’re proud of the services we provide — and we also know community needs are changing. We want to be sure we’re thinking creatively about services, and that we continue to live within our means. The City has been recognized for over three decades for following financial best practices. This ensures stability in providing City services and reduces taxpayer costs when we borrow funds for capital projects. While the City has been able to maintain essential services during the pandemic largely because of the City’s strong reserve levels and one-time federal funds, we face mounting deficits. Like most public agencies, the pandemic has exacerbated long-term financial challenges.
Rethinking Public Safety Services
With public safety representing more than half of the City’s General Fund operating budget, it is essential to consider public safety as a key lever in transforming City services. In April 2021, the City hosted a community meeting on public safety budgets to begin this multi-year conversation. The Fiscal Year 2021–22 budget decisions in both the Police and Fire Departments established early steps on this journey. These include strategic planning and the examination of services to help us ensure the City is well positioned to support current and future community needs for police, fire and emergency medical services based on best practices and fiscal responsibility.
Assessing Community Risks and Evaluating Public Safety Services Against Best Practices
We are launching studies in both the Fire and Police departments to compare our services against best practices and consider new approaches. We are asking experienced consultants to help us assess risk factors in our community, changing community needs, opportunities to innovate in our service delivery, and ways we can manage our costs effectively. We provide a wide range of services to support public safety including emergency medical assistance, disaster preparedness, fire prevention, fire suppression, traffic enforcement, crime prevention and investigation. We also respond to less-frequent but significant emergencies including earthquakes, flooding and wildfires. With climate change, we anticipate rising temperatures will present health risks to vulnerable residents and increased flooding will affect more people and property. Additionally, we recognize there are opportunities for specialized civilian positions to provide services in a manner that may result in better outcomes for community members. This is why we have engaged a mental health clinician to help respond to individuals in crisis, and are partnering with community-based organizations to conduct homeless outreach. We look forward to your input as well, recognizing that residents care about the services we provide.
Community Survey Finds Residents Are Generally Satisfied with Public Safety Services
Despite slightly increasing concerns about the overall safety of the City and police presence, the overwhelming majority of Redwood City residents are happy with their interactions with local police and are almost all are satisfied with fire protection and emergency medical response based on a December 2021 Community Satisfaction Survey. While the survey is a point in time, it is a key way to get demographically representative feedback to measure community satisfaction with City services. The survey found that most respondents had positive interactions with both Police and Fire Departments. Regardless of age, ethnicity or income, the vast majority of residents are comfortable calling the police; however, Latino respondents and respondents with lower incomes are slightly more likely to disagree with this statement. Respondents mentioned general safety, safety of walking alone, and low crime and protection as top-of-mind associations with the term “public safety.” Women, longer-term residents, and residents in lower income groups indicate higher concern about being a victim of a crime. In addition, the idea of civilian workers responding to emergency calls involving homelessness and mental health was well received.
Community Wellness and Crisis Response Team Adds Mental Health Professionals to Emergency Response
Mental Health has been in the national spotlight, highlighting the way communities need to evolve to support individuals who are experiencing behavioral health crises, including mental health, psychiatric and addiction-related crises. During the City’s community engagement initiative regarding racial equity and policing in 2020, many residents called upon the City to consider alternative service delivery models. This led the City to partner with the cities of Daly City, San Mateo, South San Francisco and the County of San Mateo to form a mental health partnership crisis response program. Stanford University’s Gardner Center for Youth and Their Families is providing program analysis so that we can assess the pilot program’s effectiveness and make adjustments as needed.
The Community Wellness and Crisis Response Team (CWCRT) program is designed to improve response to community members in a mental health crisis; enhance response times for those in need of mental health services and resources; and create a broader and more effective continuum of care for individuals and families undergoing a crisis.
We believe this new program will better meet our community needs. We expect the program will evolve over time, and hope it may become a countywide approach.
Historically, due to a lack of behavioral health resources and services on an around the clock basis, law enforcement was tasked as first responders to individuals experiencing such a crisis. Between 2015–2020, mental health calls account for less than half-of-one percent of public calls for service and officer initiated activity reported to dispatch (03% or 1,802 calls). The CWCRT program introduces mental health clinicians to partner with police officers when responding to these types of calls.
Patricia Baker began serving as Redwood City’s CWCRT Mental Health Clinician in December 2021. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), has completed two fellowships through the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis’, Palo Alto Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program, and holds a Masters in Arts in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley.
In addition to responding to about 25 crisis calls a month, Patricia is regularly contacting individuals experiencing homelessness. This supports the City’s goal to offer services to community members experiencing homelessness through civilians with health-based backgrounds — another way we are reimagining services.
Sharing Data About Policing in Redwood City
In response to the community’s desire for data-driven transparency and improvement in policing matters, the Police Department Policy Manual has recently been revised to include updated policies on de-escalation, use of force and other practices. The department purchased body worn cameras, updated the use policy, and shared information with the public at a community meeting earlier this year.
Following months of data-gathering, analysis, and implementation of innovative technology, seven online data dashboards complete the newly enhanced transparency Police Department dashboard series — Police Activity, Arrests, Use of Force, Staffing, Demographics, Promotions, and Budget. The ability to readily access public information about the Redwood City Police Department with the click of a button on the City’s website encourages inclusion, enables the public to be better informed of our operations, and promotes the spirit of working together to keep our community safe.
While the dashboards are rich in data, categorizations, and summations, each invite users to explore without formulated conclusions or framed narrative. Providing raw data and information online about the way we work and the policies that govern us is just one of the ways in which we are further advancing transparency within the Redwood City Police Department.
Police Advisory Committee
On March 8, 2021, the City Council adopted a resolution forming a Police Advisory Committee to support partnership between the community and the Police Department. The Police Advisory Committee has 11 community representatives who live or work in Redwood City.
The Police Advisory Committee (PAC) began meeting monthly in summer 2021. At their meeting held on March 17, 2022 the Committee approved their mission statement:
The Police Advisory Committee acts as a liaison between the community and the local police department to improve public safety for all residents, business owners and employees, and visitors of the Redwood City community by advocating for equity, as defined by Redwood City.
We accomplish this mission by:
· Providing suggestions and alternatives to the Redwood City Police Department Chief to generate ideas and strategies
· Elevating all community concerns related to crime and policing, especially from socially marginalized communities (including unhoused communities, Hispanic/Latino communities, and more)
· Learning with and from police personnel, people with lived experience, and public safety experts about public safety best practices that keep community members and officers safe and well
· Sharing information transparently with the public about policing to support productive dialogue on local practices and experiences
The Committee has recently developed a work plan to guide their work in the year ahead. At their meeting held April 20, 2022, they approved their recommended work plan, including the following priority topics for their meetings in 2022–2023 and identified the following priority topics to focus on over the next year:
· Community dialogue and relationship with Police
· Police response to homelessness
· Police activities: traffic stops, ticketing, patrolling, welfare checks, and enforcement
· Community Wellness and Crisis Response Team pilot program updates
The Committee plans to present its work plan to the City Council in May 2022. To learn more about the topics the Police Advisory Committee has covered so far, see their latest agenda packet here.
Consistent with related laws and protections, and as is the case with comparable committees in similar cities, the committee will not participate in departmental personnel and disciplinary actions, ongoing criminal or internal investigations, active critical incidents, and civil or criminal litigation.
Through the Police Advisory Committee, we are seeking community perspectives as we reimagine policing services to best fit Redwood City.
Your Feedback is Welcome!
There are many ways you can share your thoughts on public safety services. You can participate in City Council meetings, particularly the annual budget study session on June 13 (go here for information about City Council agendas). You can share feedback during our fire and police studies this year and you can attend meetings of the Police Advisory Committee. You can email us at email@example.com or write to the City Council at firstname.lastname@example.org. With your help, we want to build a community where every person feels safe.
Click here to learn more about the Redwood City Fire Department
Click here to learn more about the Redwood City Police Department
Click here to visit the Police Department Data Dashboards
Click here to view the Redwood City Fiscal Year 2021–22 Budget
Click here to learn more about the Police Advisory Committee