Editor’s Note: myBurbank sent eight questions out to the eight different candidates running for Burbank City Council. myBurbank will run a different question each day for eight days (except for weekends). We have in no way edited any of the responses that we have received and have come directly from the candidates. We gave them no limits to the amount of space they wanted to use for their answers and have rotated the order of the candidates each day so no one has an advantage. After reading these questions and answers, myBurbank hopes that the voters of Burbank will have an informed opinion before casting their votes. Remember, you can vote for two candidates and every vote is valuable!
Question 6 of 8:
Our country is grappling with a lot of issues including calls for defunding the police and race relations. How do you feel about defunding the police department? Do you think we need reforms? How can the City make everyone, of all races, feel they have a voice and are treated with respect?
Michael Lee Gogin:
The idea of defunding the Police Department is a fraud! There are no Burbank police here chasing after any one to kill them. It is a political narrative that is FALSE.
We can always have a better relationship with our Police Department by having more meet and greet, cultural events, coffee with the chief, etc. These get-togethers are good for the moral of the Community and PD.
Again, I do not support Defunding the Police or Fire Department Services.
I think it is imperative to have meaningful discussions about race relations in our country as part of a greater national narrative. With respect to the women and men of the Burbank Police Department, however, I see a department that sets the standard many other communities in our country are trying to emulate right now. BPD has undergone a decade of police reform leading to professionalism, transparency, and oversight that is exactly what many other people around the nation are asking from their own police departments. There are opportunities, though, to continuously improve and we must always ensure the proper allocation of resources. I for one would like to see BPD’s Mental Health Evaluation Team (MHET) expanded in scope and size, and I’ve already mentioned that I’d like to expand P-BIDs in our City to help supplement BPD’s handling of nonemergency calls.
How can the City make everyone, of all races, feel they have a voice and are treated with respect? There two things that need to happen now:
Everyone needs a seat at the table. That means everyone must be represented. I would like to see a diversity initiative instituted for of our City’s Boards and Commissions. We need to encourage diversity in these leadership roles to benefit our present and our future.
We need to help foster more diversity in our City by creating more housing opportunities for everyone. Our police force is more diverse demographically than the population of our residents. Wouldn’t it be great if these officers could afford to live where they work?
We are fortunate to be served by the men and women in the Burbank Police Department. These dedicated public servants leave their families and go to work each day to ensure that our community remains safe. They put their lives on the line, if necessary, to safeguard our personal safety and well-being.
As a community, we are rightfully proud of our excellent public services including our police officers, fire fighters, and first responders. However, not every member of our community has had a positive experience. In light of recent national events it’s more important now than ever that we continue to push ourselves to re-imagine public safety. I think we need to make some smart structural changes when it comes to use of force, training, and recruitment standards.
I have spent my entire career in the service of protecting the public. I have worked with local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel to ensure that Californians remain safe from threats of fraud and violence. I know firsthand that the majority of our men and women in law enforcement, including the Burbank Police Department (BPD), are good and they go to work every day to protect the public. However, I have also personally witnessed an unfair and unequal criminal justice system in this country. We all have an obligation to organize, raise awareness to these issues, and cast our ballots for meaningful change.
It has become clear in recent months that too many Black Americans have lost their life as a result of police abuse and misconduct. Recent events, such as the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have highlighted the ongoing racial injustices in our country and further eroded confidence and trust in our nation’s law enforcement system. It should not be controversial to state the obvious: Black Lives Matter. We must stand for nothing less.
I am running, in part, because I have the knowledge, skill, and experience to help make meaningful changes to law enforcement in a manner that restores public confidence and trust in law enforcement. As a member of the Burbank City Council, I would:
Support the implementation of common-sense limits on the use of force including a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds.
Revise BPD’s use of force policy so that BPD officers are required to exhaust all non- and less-lethal force options before resorting to the use of deadly force.
Adopt a use of force continuum that will also create clear policy guidance on when BPD officers can and should use particular weapons or tactics.
Advocate for increased implicit bias training for all BPD officers and employees.
Look for creative ways to re-invest our public safety funds into non-punitive, preventative, and restorative programs that decrease and prevent crime.
Recruit and appoint more people of color to serve on all of our city’s boards and commissions.
While there aren’t major instances of police brutality the way we have seen in other states in Burbank, there are areas for improvement within the Burbank Police Department. For example, they had an independent audit done last year, and it claimed they could use more scrutiny when analyzing misconduct allegations. At Burbank’s recent BLM marches, our POC community voiced their concerns about this and said there are improvements to be made with regards towards everyday interactions between police and civilians. The number one thing we need to do moving forward is listen to our POC community, allow them to lead the way to change, and solve the problems together.
As a community, we need to look at the larger picture. Los Angeles and the surrounding areas are really looked up to around the country. We have a chance to set precedents for the rest of the nation. So while BPD itself may not need major overhaul, it would be a great example for other police departments if we started to focus on de-escalation tactics and mental health training. That’s the direction I want to see us go towards.
I think we have to listen to each other and be respectful of each other. The first thing we do is we need to be careful about our words and our attitudes. Just as Black lives matter so do the words we use. The “defund” word is a non-starter for lots of older established folks in Burbank who love their police department. I would rather use the word “re-imagine” our police so we acknowledge that there will be some changes and that any change will save money and make Burbank better. I have a lot of faith in our Chief, the leadership and in our command staff. Having said that, I acknowledge that some folks have a different experience and a different point of view. Working in the criminal justice system, I have seen racism in police work in other cities, the County of Los Angeles and across the nation. But I also do not have the power to look at anyone and know he or she is a racist their actions and their words will reveal them eventually.
I also acknowledge that there are or might be impediments to minorities that are systematic. For us to have an intelligent and fruitful discussion they have to study the problem like I have and acknowledge that what works in LA is not going to automatically work for Burbank. For those who want to engage, they need to understand the following facts: Burbank is a department that has been in reform mode for the last 10 years. We hired a chief from outside our department and gave him a mandate to reform the department. We now do all new recruiting, all new hiring, all new training. Our department is fully and totally committed to being transparent. Go to the City’s website and review all of the policies on every aspect of the department including the use of force it is there for anyone to study. Our department is more diverse than our city, which is important. We have an independent company called OIR that focuses on different aspects of our department and presents a written report which is shown and discussed for all to see at our city council meeting. The public can watch and participate. We have an independent police commission that reports to the city council. They meet once a month in public and people can watch their meeting and participate. I recently asked that the Police Commission be expanded to two additional members and personally want to see two minority candidates in those seats. I think that this diversity will give the public more confidence in any future findings. I am not saying that our current commission is inadequate. Rather, I am looking towards the future and think that more diversity is key to an inclusive and collaborative city.
Now the next step, the point of “defunding” is to save money and reallocate resources. For this to occur the critics have to know what they are talking about and do some research on Burbank. For example, get rid of the SROs. First, the schools want the SROs, the teachers want the SROs, most of the students want the SROs. Most of us think if there is an active shooter it would be a good idea to have an armed officer who knows the school, the layout and the students. If we pulled the SROs it would not save money for us or the schools. The officer would not be fired but reassigned to other police work. Where is the savings? There is none. Next example, decouple the animal shelter. We have one police person involved with the shelter and that is a part time supervisor – a captain. If we took that captain away from the animal shelter, he would pick up some other duty somewhere else, therefore, no savings! Lastly, decouple the MHET program from the police. This is a police program which helps them with mental health calls. Our entire force has been fully trained to handle mental health encounters. In MHET a trained psychiatric social worker responds with the officers to a mental health call. In other encounters she responds to officers in the field who have a mental health call that wasn’t clearly that when assigned. This is a police program that saves lives and it probably should be expanded. Police departments come from all over the country to see this program in action and try to figure out how to recreate it back home. These are just a few examples. Burbank is in pretty good shape and most other departments would like to be where we are. Finally, we have had about 25 protests in town since Mr. Floyd was murdered. We have not had one incident resulting from the protests nor have we had curfew or protest related arrests. We received no complaints about our officers – only praise for their attitude and professionalism. Our department knows that citizens have rights and they welcome us expressing ourselves.
We ordered body worn cameras in 2018 and they seem to be working great.
We are already moving to examine all of our institutions in cooperation with the Burbank Human Relations Council to find and root out hate and systematic racism if it exists. It will take some time for us to find out and institute reforms if necessary. We will need a diverse spectrum of people, races and cultures to participate and some experts to help us. Please keep your eyes open and volunteer if you can because we are all in this together. I doubt this will happen quickly because lots of people will need to be involved and it won’t be efficient but we can do it together! We have to have the will and the energy to do this and be a shining example for other cities.
It is a fact that neighbor disputes, mental health crises, and other situations that do not involve public safety have been thrown onto the long list of responsibilities given to Police Departments over many years. Police officers are often ill-equipped and not trained to handle situations that require patient, diagnostic problem-solving as opposed to protecting the public. Let’s move these responsibilities to those who are experts in those fields such as de-escalation rather than criminalize these situations and at the same time, move funding from Police Departments to those experts. This is what is meant by “defund the police”. It is not abolishing Police; it is shifting resources to help the community at large.
Many say that people should go through the Police Community Academy, go to Coffee with a Cop, and participate in the BPD outreach programs. But in these turbulent times, BPD needs to connect with the entire community, not just those who are available at the convenience of BPD. Outreach means “to surpass in reach”. A true outreach program involves reaching out, listening, and having regular conversations with our neighbors who are now beginning to speak about their experiences. One option is regular public town halls at times and places convenient for the different sections of our community. The emphasis should be residents’ experiences and what they think about policing in Burbank. We need to see BPD learn about us and from us, and then real, productive and lasting dialogue and a beneficial rebuilding of trust can begin. Until members of our police department take responsibility for their role in the climate of our community, they will not view themselves – or be viewed – as trustworthy stakeholders in our city.
Just last year, our local police force received high marks for their use-of-force policies and misconduct investigations. But historically, this has not always been true. Less than a decade ago, the department had been investigated for racism, sexism, and gross misconduct.
As council member, I will support the implementation of common-sense limits on police, including the eight policy recommendations from the Police Use of Force Project. Currently, the Burbank Police Department policy only includes four.
I will not vote for a city budget that funds military surplus equipment for our patrol officers. Residents should not have to see officers walking the streets outfitted like SWAT. We must defund the militarization of our local police force to foster goodwill.
I am against all forms of predictive policing and qualified immunity for government agencies, as these systems are known to be biased against people of color. As council member, I will use my voice and influence to help enact the Ending Qualified Immunity Act. We must also decouple our Burbank Mental Health Evaluation team from our police department, in an effort to end the criminalization of the mentally ill and unhoused. Facial recognition software should not be used by police departments, so I will also push to permanently shelve California Assembly Bill 2261 (“Facial Recognition Regulation Bill”).
The best way Burbank can foster a feeling of empowerment and respect is to address the issues of inequity head-on, with clear policy positions. For instance, I would like to update our police department’s policies to identify known slurs against all protected classes in order to designate and report hate crimes. Aside from that, the city has much to address in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, including the way our police department records and reports its data, the presence of resource officers in our schools, the way we hire city employees, and our approach to language justice.
Black lives matter.
I currently serve on the Burbank Unified School District Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee. This committee is doing amazing ground work to create a policy against racism, and an anti-racist cultural shift. I believe this work can be brought into our general community moving forward, in partnership with the city.
I am advocating to create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) City Commission or coalition. This group would have the responsibility to work with city staff to review practices and policies, and identify where we can better serve our entire community to reduce institutional racism and inequity, to ensure that everyone feels safe and welcome, and has equal access to services. This commission would work in partnership with other commissions, especially those for departments such as police, parks and recreation, water and power, and civil service, and would serve as an advisory board to the council.
Our city has a rich medley of culture that deserves to be recognized and celebrated. I will work to find ways that we can bring us all together to share our histories, our cultures, and our experiences. It is also imperative that we work to create more diversity on our city commissions to truly reflect our community. I will also work to find a way to create a multicultural center with intentional space for cultural events and cross cultural experiences.
Ultimately, Burbank must be a city that is welcoming, inclusive and accessible to everyone. Equity is when everyone has access to the opportunities necessary to satisfy their essential needs, advance their well-being, and achieve their full potential, without fear of unfair treatment.
I support using this unique opportunity to reevaluate our police department’s relationship with all of the community. We are fortunate to have a police department that has already started the work to be community focused with the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Our Mental Health Evaluation Team has improved police response to include mental health staff, and our Streets Plus program has created another layer of contact with our unhoused population. Moving forward, as Chief LaChasse has said many times, there is always room for improvement, no matter where we’re at. I agree with him. While appreciating the progress of the past, it’s time to look at how we can improve. This starts with conversation, with the long promised set of community meetings, and with a renewed commitment to community protection and service. I believe this will lead us to an observable anti-racism policy city-wide, including in the police department.