In the news
Mask Ordinance and Re-Thinking Community Safety
July 5, 2020
Thanks to everyone who has contacted me regarding a proposed ordinance requiring cloth face coverings to be worn in certain public settings. This issue generates strong feelings, and I want to let you know I understand both points of view.
I do not want to live in an authoritarian state with intrusive and arbitrary laws imposed on the population, and enforced through police power. On the other hand, I believe in the value of scientific research and analysis to guide good policy that enhances public safety and quality of life - and that's how I view the mask ordinance.
This graph shows the number of positive COVID-19 tests recorded in Boone County since the start of the pandemic. Here are a few observations:
- After the first case was identified in mid-March, the number of cases rose quickly during the rest of the month
- As a result of the "stay at home" order issued on March 24, we successfully "flattened the curve" during April and early May
- Following the start of the "re-opening plan" on May 4, which allowed more community interactions, the number of daily new cases rose sharply
- On Thursday and Friday of last week, there were 39 and 31 new cases respectively, representing the steepest rise we have seen by far and overwhelming our ability to do contact-tracing
- We now have more than 150 active cases, the highest number we have seen by far, threatening the capacity of our local public health and healthcare systems
- Even though more testing is being done, the rise in cases represents real community spread as shown below by the dramatic rise in the percentage of positive tests in the last two weeks
It's clear that if we do nothing to reduce community interactions, the number of active cases will continue to increase exponentially. It takes up to 14 days after becoming infected for someone to show symptoms, which is the typical trigger for getting a test. Therefore, it's reasonable to expect the current trend lines to continue for the next two weeks, even if we enact an ordinance tomorrow.
It seems likely that another "stay at home" order will be needed to restrict community interactions adequately to bring the contagion back under control. However, it may be possible to reduce spread of the virus if most of us wear a cloth face covering when interacting with others.
For these reasons, I support proposed Ordinance B-168-20, "establishing the requirement to wear a face mask in certain locations in order to prevent or limit the spread of the COVID-19 disease," which is on tomorrow's City Council agenda.
Re-Thinking Community Safety
The most important role of local government is to keep the community safe. In our system of democracy, community members decide how that program should be implemented and it is clear that voters in Columbia and across the country want to see some changes.
As I mentioned in my June 14th constituent newsletter, the Eugene, OR Police Department diverts 24,000 emergency calls every year to housing, mental health, and addiction counselors through the nationally-recognized CAHOOTS program. Not only are outcomes better when an appropriately trained professional responds to selected calls, rather than an armed police officer, but the program (which has been in operation for three decades) saves the City an estimated $15 million per year.
And, in the last two weeks:
- Los Angeles City Council directed the Police Department, Homeless Services Authority, and other city departments to develop a model in which non-law enforcement agencies will address non-violent calls;
- Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced a new team of unarmed specialists that will respond to 911 calls about homelessness, drug use, mental health, and more. Police Chief Mike Geier supports the shift, because officers are overburdened with responding to these types of calls;
- San Francisco Mayor London Breed said that trained, unarmed professionals will now respond to non-criminal complaints like school disciplinary actions, neighborly disputes, and homelessness, rather than police officers.
I believe we should re-think Columbia's community safety program in a similar way. The City currently spends about $25 million annually on policing and less than $2 million on social and human services, and I am advocating for a shift in emphasis. Starting with the FY-21 budget, we need to fund a robust, unarmed "crisis response team" or "co-responders program" which includes mental health and other human service professionals.
Finally, I want to thank Police Chief Geoff Jones for his recent order prohibiting "investigative stops" in which officers pull a driver over for a minor, technical violation in the hopes (ie. no actual intelligence) of uncovering evidence of a crime. Also known as "pretext stops," this practice is highly susceptible to racial bias, drives up distrust of the police, and likely contributes to CPD's disparities in stops.
You are invited to join a Constituent Conversation Online this afternoon (2-4pm) to continue the discussion of community safety, managing the COVID-19 pandemic, and other City policy issues. Here are the videoconference/dial-in links:
Zoom Meeting https://zoom.us/j/99360231538 or phone 1-312-626-6799, Meeting ID: 993-6023-1538
Upcoming dates are always available at my web site.