Concern about Officer-Involved Shooting Deaths
In the spring of 2017, several people concerned about officer-involved shooting deaths in our community formed the group Concerned Citizens for Justice, or CC4J. Founding members Emily Alma, Jill Bailey, Margaret Swick, Lana McGuire and Diane Suzuki continue to be active in the group, with Emily serving as coordinator. Other founding members include Vince Haynie, David and Sandra O’Neill, and Paula McLay.
We felt that our community must establish some form of citizen oversight of law enforcement to avoid future preventable deaths at the hands of law enforcement.
Several other concerned citizens – among them George Gold, Anthony Peyton Porter, Marty Dunlap, Angela Risdon, M. Benson, Wolfy Rougle, Ellen Gallena and Erica Charlesworth – assisted in developing CC4J’s mission statement and Focus Points, CC4J’s foundational document.
In June 2018 CC4J held a “Community Conversation” at the Chico branch library, with city and county officials and members of the public in attendance. Among them were Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien, Butte County Supervisor Debra Lucero, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey as well as City Councilmember Randall Stone and Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin.
A good number of the public had a lot to say about their relationship with the Chico police. They asked city officials to address such issues as police brutality, homelessness and its costs and consequences, the great need to expand mental-health services, and the impacts of both implicit and overt racial bias on the community.
That wasn’t all. Too many people are afraid of the police, they charged. Also, the complaint process needs to be improved and made more transparent, and body cams must be used during every officer-citizen encounter. Most important, they insisted, the department’s use-of-force guidelines need to be understood and implemented at all levels. Chief O’Brien stated he was “willing to have that conversation anywhere and any place.” He said he supports the Presidential Task Force (21st Century Policing) and CC4J Focus Points as sound in principle, “so we are in agreement.”
Several months later, in September 2018, CC4J held a City Council candidates’ forum at the Chico branch library. It was an opportunity for the candidates to present their positions on various law enforcement issues affecting Chico, including officer-involved killings. The interviewed candidates were Alex Brown, Rich Ober, Scott Huber and Ken Rensink.
Margaret Swick (photo by Dave Waddell)
During 2019 and 2020, CC4J began to meet individually with knowledgeable and involved people, including O’Brien and Constantin, Police Union President Jim Parrott and various City Council members. The havoc wrought by the tragic Camp Fire in November 2018 was the focus of our community during this time.
CC4J members made presentations at City Council meetings up until the pandemic disallowed the public from attending in person.
In response, George Gold, CC4J’s tech webmaster, created our website and Facebook page.
George Floyd's horrific death on May 25, 2020, at the hands of Minneapolis police inspired CC4J members to create a comprehensive Action Plan (Action Plan to Transform Policing in Chico) (link) laying out the steps we and the rest of the community needed to take in response to the national call for changes in policing. We expanded dramatically, growing to more than 20 members and creating working committees responsible for research, outreach and technology as well as collecting firsthand accounts of police abuse (the Stories Project).
CC4J held a press conference in September 2020, when we released our Action Plan with coalition community organizations and individuals attending (see KRCR-TV coverage of press conference). We continued to do media interviews with local radio, print, and online outlets.
CC4J co-founder Margaret Swick was appointed to sit on the Police Review Ad Hoc Committee (PRAHC) created by Mayor Ann Schwab. Others on this committee were Schwab, Vice Mayor Alex Brown, Parrott, Cory Hunt (representing the groups Defund Chico and Justice 4 Desmond), Rob Berry (member of Police Community Advisory Board), Chico Police Chief Matt Madden, Sgt. Omar Pena and Councilmember Kasey Reynolds.
For those seeking police reform, the outcome of the committee’s deliberations was disappointing. CC4J members as well as other committee participants and members of the public felt that Chico PD used the committee as a platform to glorify their present policies and practices, and allowed no time for critical examination. They did not examine the use-of-force policy, and there was no reform.
Just as the ad hoc committee was completing its mission, another tragedy occurred. Stephen Vest, a young man who lost his home in Paradise and became homeless in Chico, was shot and killed by CPD officers on October 14, 2020. Stephen was in a drug-induced mental/emotional episode and armed with a 3½-inch knife. He was shot 11 times in a matter of seconds.
DA Mike Ramsey released his final report on the Stephen Vest officer-involved fatal shooting in January of 2021, finding the officers’ actions justified. CC4J held a press conference and rally on February 9, 2021, to respond to the DA's report on Stephen Vest’s death. Our position was—and remains—that the officers failed to use de-escalation techniques and that Vest’s death could have been avoided. (Click to view video of press conference.)
Recently CC4J members began meeting with Chief Madden in an effort to foster better police-community relations. At the same time, the organization began developing a new and improved website and established a Twitter account (@CC4JChico).
For the future, CC4J looks toward promoting their Action Plan, expanding the CC4J Coalition for Police Reform among community members, and continuing to work toward the ultimate goals of Citizen Oversight of Law Enforcement and a transformation of police culture to one that treats all humans with dignity and respect, as guardians, not warriors.