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Cantrell, NAACP, and TMHA discuss racial and criminal justice reform 

Imagining what a just and equitable justice system in San Luis Obispo County would look like depends on who you're talking to, according to outgoing San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell.

click to enlarge OPEN DIALOGUE (Left to right) Transitions Mental Health Association Executive Director Jill Bolster-White, SLO Chief of Police Deanna Cantrell, and NAACP SLO County Branch President Stephen Vines participated in the League of Women Voters panel on racial and criminal justice reform. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
  • Image Courtesy Of The League Of Women Voters
  • OPEN DIALOGUE (Left to right) Transitions Mental Health Association Executive Director Jill Bolster-White, SLO Chief of Police Deanna Cantrell, and NAACP SLO County Branch President Stephen Vines participated in the League of Women Voters panel on racial and criminal justice reform.

The definitions of "just" and "equitable" mean something different to every person, Cantrell said during a Sept. 12 League of Women Voters virtual forum on racial and criminal justice reform, which she participated in alongside Transitions Mental-Health Association Executive Director Jill Bolster-White and NAACP SLO County Branch President Stephen Vines.

"Police serve the community, and we should police in a way that's meaningful to our community, and every community is different," Cantrell said.

In the city of San Luis Obispo, she said, her department treats all people with dignity and respect.

"We work super close with our marginalized communities that might be more affected by laws, and we change our policies and we change our procedures. We work on training. We hold ourselves accountable. We've shared all of our data on arrests and traffic stops with the community. I have by far the most diverse department in the city of San Luis Obispo, so people see themselves in their department," Cantrell said.

Her personal vision, she said, is to advance policing, public safety, and public trust through a lens of reducing harm in the community.

Bolster-White and Cantrell agreed that systemic racism does exist in the community, however Vines said racism is an oxymoron because there is only one race, the human race.

"Society's culture is built upon the model of how much melanin you have is how you're treated. We need to change the whole language that we use to talk about it. Racism is an oxymoron that was created to divide and conquer. It's not a matter of whether it's here, but what can we do about it," Vines said.

On the topic of defunding law enforcement, the panelists agreed that it wasn't the answer. Rather, they said, the community needs to be educated on how law enforcement, mental health, and other social services receive funding.

In order to have effective policing Vines said, the city needs more wrap-around services that include mental health and social services so law enforcement doesn't have to wear so many hats when responding to 911 calls.

When asked what would need to change in law enforcement for people of color to believe their concerns and complaints are heard, Cantrell said that as a person of color—Cantrell identifies as a Choctaw Native American—and a member of the LGBTQ community, she absolutely feels she's been heard by the SLO Police Department because of the work she's done over the last four years.

"I promise that I will listen, and I am always willing to sit at the table with anyone that wants to sit down and talk about policing who has ideas. I always come from a position of listening and learning first so we can come together, learn together, and build trust. And teach the community about the complex difficult thing policing is," Cantrell said.

The League of Women Voters also asked the panelists for their thoughts on how law enforcement should respond to civil disobedience. Vines said it's dependent on both protesters and law enforcement to be consistent about fairly implementing laws and following them in order to control the environment.

Cantrell argued that it wasn't realistic to see things that way, and pointed to the first protests-turned-march in San Luis Obispo that had more than 1,000 people in attendance.

"We've asked people, please stay on the sidewalk. And I ask you instead of telling you, because if I tell you 'get on the sidewalk' and you say 'no,' well I'm going to force the law. And I start to pull one person at a time aside with my whole 61 sworn—who are not all there—so I have five bike officers with 1,000 people, and I start pulling one person aside to write them a ticket for walking in the roadway. What does everybody think is going to happen?" she said.

All the panelists agreed, the community and law enforcement need to suspend their previous judgments, listen, and engage to have constructive change. Δ

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