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Chief Mills blows the dog whistle: Can a police department pervaded by “Warrior Cop” mythology be trusted to reform itself?

Comms Working Group - 11.23.2020
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We desperately need a reality-based discussion of public safety, policing, and racial justice in Santa Cruz. Andy Mills’ latest creative writing exercise ain’t it, Chief.

At the same time the Santa Cruz Police Department is touting its openness to reforms, Chief Andy Mills published a blog post that amounts to a dog whistle to the Kyle Rittenhouse wannabes in our community. Even worse, the Santa Cruz Police Department used our tax dollars to promote this praise of vigilantism on Facebook.  

The post presents the story of “Kelly” and her mysterious protector, a wounded combat veteran who trains his laser sniper sight on the criminal who is knifecriming the plucky policewoman right in the face.

Who is Officer Kelly? Does she have a last name? Where did this incident happen? We are obviously not meant to be asking for these petty details. Kelly is a “tough lady and a good cop” - that’s all we need to know. 

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Image credit: Larry Van Pelt of http://jesus-withyoualways.com

Kelly is determined to solve a series of residential burglaries on her beat. Luckily, Kelly knows the principles of predictive policing, and can apply them even if her department has banned the practice, as the SCPD so famously has. She’s a maverick! A silly ban on PredPol won’t stop her from going straight to the geographical heart of the crime cluster. What’s that, a suspicious man riding a bike with a backpack? Kelly quickly manufactures “probable cause” to pull him over. What was that probable cause? Again, a detail we don’t need to know. The fact that a suspicious Black man on a bicycle features in a widely criticized incident of racial profiling enabled by the SCPD’s use of predictive policing software is neither here nor there. 

Don’t pause to think too much about why Kelly is confronting the suspect without waiting for backup. When was the last time you saw less than 4 cops confront an elderly homeless person downtown? Just don’t think too hard about that, you’re ruining the flow of the story. Pay attention! Kelly’s face is being sliced open! Even worse, blood is flowing down her cheeks and staining her badge. 

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While we do want Andy Mills to quit his day job, we recommend that he take a few classes before he tries to break into screenwriting
(image from a promotion for TVOne's new crime drama)

As she fights on, Kelly sees a mysterious red light flicker before her eyes. Was the red dot of light a figment of her imagination? Or some supernatural apparition? No, she learns during her debriefing, it was the laser signature of the wounded combat veteran who trained his rifle sights on her attacker. 

This warrior covered Kelly from the high ground. Silent. Determined. His red light let her know she didn’t fight alone. He held her six.

With this dramatic reveal, the story reaches its climax. The myths of the “thin blue line” and “our brave troops overseas” mingle in a glorious crescendo. 

This “warrior” has no name, no corroborating details, and all the consistency of a fever dream. Just as quickly as he appeared, “the warrior” has served his narrative purpose and vanished.

After this emotional peak, the dream sequence dissolves wavily into a close up of Chief Mills telling us it was all just a metaphor. He means you should cover his back figuratively. He means you should support his policy recommendations for police reform that go before the city council on November 24. 

As a rational argument for his police reform proposals, this post by Mills raises quite a few questions, and indeed, red flags. When we have 17 year olds literally “backing the blue” by shooting down protestors in the streets, as was the case with Kyle Rittenhouse currently facing multiple counts of homicide in Wisconsin, why on earth would Mills post something like this?  

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Got your six" is military jargon for "got your back." Directly in front of the plane is "12 o'clock", the rear of the plane is at "6 o'clock." Decal for sale on amazon dot com.

The mistake is to view the policy proposals as the goal, and the blog post as a bungled public relations effort in support of that goal. In reality, both the reform proposals and the blog post are PR efforts, aimed at different audiences. 

The policy recommendations are aimed at the good liberals of Santa Cruz, offering a mix of superficial changes including “improved diversity training” and the independent police review agency—which have proven largely ineffective in curbing police violence and are confusingly presented as something new. They support the myth of Santa Cruz exceptionalism: the fantasy that somehow, the city can be both “post-racist” and yet still be an overwhelmingly white, affluent enclave surrounded by a less affluent, browner population.

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We don't actually know if Andy has a collection of stories suitable for sermons on his bookshelf. But his rhetorical flourishes sure remind of us of a white evangelical minister.

Meanwhile, the blog post is aimed at the SCPD’s more fervent base, which prefers glurgy email forwards and stories from the Big Book of Sermon Illustrations we assume Andy Mills still has on his shelf from his days studying pastoral theology at the Grand Rapids School of the Bible. It sends a coded, dog-whistle message that winks approvingly at vigilantism and signals that SCPD is not going to let the proposed reforms cramp its style in any significant way. 

The dramatic story of Officer Kelly and her vigilante protector distracts us from the humdrum reality that the overwhelming majority of police work in Santa Cruz involves moving homeless people from place to place and responding to crises involving poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse. These are social issues that police are poorly equipped to solve. In his more rational moments, Chief Mills has admitted this reality and has even wished that the burden of solving these issues be lifted from the police department. However, he knows that letting go of the police role in maintaining social inequality means letting go of one of the main reasons for the existence of the police and prison industrial complex.

Mills knows that, in an era of anti-racist politics, the future of ever-expanding police budgets and law & order fearmongering is uncertain. People are beginning to understand that policing is an inadequate response to the social breakdown caused by capitalism’s crisis of care.  Chief Mills is aware that many Santa Cruzans are embracing ideas like alternative emergency response programs, which funnel resources into services that meet real human needs. In fact, a representative of the Eugene, Oregon based CAHOOTS program gave a presentation to our city council just a couple days before this blog post was published. In this context, Mills’ story seems like an attempt to take back narrative control, using emotional manipulation to demand our unquestioning allegiance.

We need reality-based public safety proposals, not badly written crime dramas that glorify vigilante violence in an effort to drum up support for cosmetic reforms aimed at legitimizing the police force’s power to oppress poor and racialized communities.

What you can do

Join DSA Santa Cruz! DSA SC’s Racial Justice Working Group and the Electoral Action Working Group, are actively working on these issues right now. DSA SC members are also part of a coalition working to Re-imagine Public Safety in Santa Cruz County.

Email: citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.com

Public Comment: Tuesday, 11/24 at 7:30

Agenda Item 24: Policy Changes Related to Racial Equity and Social Justice in the Criminal Justice System (PD) “

Watch Meeting:

    Online at http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/government/city-council/council-meetings

    Online at Watch – Community Television of Santa Cruz County 

Comment: 

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