An open letter to the new Chico police chief Gold: 'Change the culture of police violence'

by George Gold
column posted Dec. 21

I’m afraid to live in Chico. Not because I might be mugged, not because I might get shot in a carjacking, but I am worried that on any given day I could be shot by someone representing our police department.

photo by Leslie Layton
Billy Aldridge was a captain at Chico Police Department and was promoted to chief on Dec. 20.

Rather than budgetary increases for the much needed road repairs all over Chico, rather than funds to help those of us who may live without a home, rather than funds to provide more robust care for many of the mental health challenges we know are coursing through our communities every day, our City Council keeps approving more and more money for tactical and military-style weapons for the police. More than 50% of the City of Chico’s budget ends up on the police department balance sheet.

Whether it’s license plate readers throughout the city or the police obtaining sophisticated military surplus tactical weapons, these expenditures don’t make me feel safer in Chico.

Every now and then the police in Chico (as well as in other communities throughout California) have Coffee with a Cop events. And let me be clear, I’ve been to some of these meetings. The cops who show up for these meetings are so nice, so cordial, so professional, the meetings are really enjoyable. But I can’t help but wonder what happens to these lovely people that would cause them to pull up to an “incident” and within 10 seconds pull their service weapons and fire off 10 or 15 shots.

A new police chief was sworn in Dec. 20. I ask you, Chief Billy Aldridge, how long does it take to apply the well-recognized, well-documented de-escalation processes and techniques upon arriving at an incident? You and I know the answer — it’s a lot more than 10 seconds.

How much assessment is required when an unarmed person acting alone -– or perhaps armed with a knife — how much time is required to begin the process of de-escalation before the officer pulls a weapon and fires? It’s pretty clear to everyone that you need more than 10 seconds.

Over the last several years there have been many police-directed killings, and just a few I’ll remind you of are Desmond Phillips, Tyler Rushing and Stephen Vest.

I would ask you, Chief, have you watched the body camera footage of these incidents? I have, and when I do I am physically sick for days after. How do these videos affect you, Chief? I find them shocking and appalling, something that maybe we would unfortunately expect from some of the many war-torn countries around the world — not that that makes it any easier to see — but when this happens in my community, it really shocks the senses. I mean really, Chief, I have watched the videos of Tyler Rushing being killed by cops from Chico and other agencies, and in that bathroom there was but one goal — kill him, put him down.

And politically, the City is yet again asking a judge to throw out the lawsuit Tyler Rushing’s estate has brought against Chico. It would appear that the malice and gross negligence used against Tyler Rushing is something that this City just can’t seem to admit to. And, this lack of awareness and or compassion seems to be rampant through city government and the Butte County District Attorney’s office. It’s like a virus that doesn’t disappear.

I want (everyone wants) to feel safe in Chico, but isn’t it sad that I don’t feel safe because of the conduct of my own police department, and thereby isn’t it a huge betrayal of the trust that should exist between my police department and me?

I would like to see my police department change to one that cares about my community by showing us their commitment to training not with 50 caliber machine guns or flash-bang grenades, but by getting rid of military weapons and replacing them with non-lethal techniques and training for de-escalating potentially violent confrontations.

The police chief sets the tone for officers. Chief, are you interested in becoming a trail-blazing chief of police who changes the culture of police violence in our department and introduces every department employee to a new approach to policing, a more humane approach in everything the department does?

I moved to Butte County in 2007 and I have seen several police chiefs come and go, but not one of them, over a 15-year period, has committed himself to taking deadly police violence out of the Chico Police Department. Will you?

George Gold

George Gold is a Chico resident, a police reform activist and an occasional contributor to ChicoSol.

4 thoughts on “An open letter to the new Chico police chief Gold: 'Change the culture of police violence'

  1. I am so glad that George Gold wrote this letter to you Chief Aldridge. I totally agree that I too don’t feel safe living in Chico, de-escalating should be the policy and procedure of the police department.

  2. Thank you both, George and Kristin, for speaking up about the local policing culture, and challenging the new Police Chief to set a different tone.

    I’ve seen the body cam footage from the most recent Chico Police killings….of Desmond Phillips, Tyler Rushing, and Stephen Vest…..I was appalled…..the police didn’t have to kill those three young men.

    Tyler’s parents…..Scott and Paula Rushing….. have the constitutional right to put the officers who killed their son on trial by jury. The City of Chico is apparently using the legal system to obstruct this right, paying its lawyers out of our pockets.

    Chico City Council and Mayor Coolidge must move forward on the Rushing case per the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and immediately cease their oppositional legal maneuvering. Justice delayed is justice denied.

    Chief Billy Aldridge, what do you stand for……do you believe that Chico Police are not above the law, that they also, just like anyone else, should be expected to go to trial for what many Chicoans believe was a wrongful death, in Tyler Rushing’s case?

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with George Gold’s message, but I do want to correct one misimpression. The sad fact is that neither of the Chico police officers who gunned down Desmond Phillips were wearing body-worn cameras. That was due to the neglect of Mike O’Brien, Chico’s police chief at the time and now an appointed member of the Chico City Council.
    A bit of history: O’Brien’s reformist predecessor, Mike Dunbaugh, in early 2015, put O’Brien in charge of having officers test two cameras for use. A selection had been made by the time detective Mark Bass fatally shot the fleeing Eddie “Gabe” Sanchez in the side of his face in late 2015. But Bass was not wearing a camera. In fact, despite the highly questionable killing of Sanchez, all of 2016 came and went and there were still no cameras on any Chico police officer. It wasn’t until April 2017 – two weeks after Desmond Phillips was shockingly slain – that O’Brien finally mustered the courage to force patrol officers to wear cameras. Yet he still didn’t get cameras on their supervising sergeants, and it was a sergeant who shot Tyler Rushing to his death in July 2017.
    Given his track record, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey would not have prosecuted officers for the Sanchez and Phillips killings under any circumstances. However, unjustified police killings caught on film always make Ramsey’s whitewashes much more complicated.

  4. George Gold, thank you for your well thought out and honest letter concerning the safety of Chico residents from violence at the hands of Chico PD.

    Judging from the recent past, this fear of violence from sworn officers is especially true, if one happens to be a young man in a state of crisis.

    I add my plea to yours to Chief Aldridge, to look closely at the culture of violence displayed by Chico PD for many years, and take seriously changes in training and practice to protect all citizens, for Chico police officers internalize principles and practice of de-escalation, to truly keep Chico residents safe.

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