Chico PD holds its first town hall Homelessness, de-escalation and diversity discussed

by Leslie Layton
posted May 2

In the first of two town halls to be held this year, Chico police addressed topics that emerged from the recent Community Survey as concerns, including homelessness and the department’s use of de-escalation techniques.

photo by Leslie Layton
Chief Billy Aldridge at Chico PD’s first town hall.

The May 1 town hall followed the recent release of results from the department’s Community Survey that received 797 responses from Chico-area residents. Most of the respondents were over 50 years old and a disproportionate number white. Almost 60 percent said the unhoused community was a major concern.

The new Police Community Advisory Board and Chief Billy Aldridge sat in a row facing an audience of about 20 people. Both the chief and board Chair Roger Efremsky said the public needs to better understand that officers can only remove pop-up homeless encampments under the parameters set by the Warren v. Chico lawsuit settlement.

Chico’s Robin Keehn asked whether a campground where unhoused people could stay would help officers as they move to dislodge campers from City streets.

Aldridge said another location where people could be referred would in fact help, but stressed that it would not be an “overnight fix” because the settlement doesn’t allow spontaneous and immediate police response.

“Would it certainly help us to have more locations? Yeah it would,” Aldridge said. “When we have a process that we’re mandated to follow, though, it doesn’t matter what we have out there. Even if we have the North State Shelter Team running a managed campground, we would still have to follow the orders of the settlement agreement as it’s currently stipulated.”

Another matter emerging in the survey was that of de-escalation; about 50% of respondents neither agreed or disagreed when asked if officers chose to de-escalate “contentious situations.”

About 36% agreed that officers de-escalate, and 14% disagreed.

Asked by this reporter for a response, the chief indicated it was a matter of better informing the public about the rigorous training in de-escalation he says his officers undergo.

photo by Leslie Layton
Police reform advocate George Gold

Police reform advocate George Gold wasn’t satisfied. He says Chico PD doesn’t adhere to the recommendations in its own policy manual in situations that should be de-escalated, instead relying on weaponry.

“Chico police and other departments as well are endeavoring to change the definition of de-escalation,” he told ChicoSol. “If you pull a gun, you’re not de-escalating. You’re saying, ‘I’ve got the solution to this problem and it’s in my hand.’”

Gold the panel: “There should be a commitment by every single officer to de-escalation and how to do it. I don’t believe we have that today.”

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey spoke, defending Chico PD’s conduct in general and its commitment to de-escalation in particular.

That came as a disappointment to two members of the audience, Eddie and Sheryl Sanchez. Eddie Sanchez is the father of Eddie “Gabe” Sanchez, a 34-year-old man who was killed by Chico police in 2015.

Ramsey and speakers who defended Chico PD’s de-escalation record “really got me upset,” Sanchez said after the town hall.

Sanchez noted that he spoke with officers by phone before his son was fatally shot nine years ago. He told a sergeant, “I heard that you got my boy there, give me 20 minutes to get there, I’ll hand him over to you,” Sanchez recalled. “Twenty minutes later he got killed. To me that was not de-escalation.”

Respondents to the Community Survey listed violent crime and mental health crises as their two top concerns after homelessness.

Aldridge said many respondents want to see Chico PD increase budget and staffing to better respond to crime and traffic violations. He noted that the state has mandated 24/7 behavioral crisis intervention and that is now in place in the county.

Aldridge said the mobile crisis team is “utilized on a daily basis.” Citizens needing help with someone in crisis can now call the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

photo by Leslie Layton
Butte County NAACP 1029-B President Janet Goodson

Some in the audience wanted to know how, in a future survey, a more diverse audience could be reached.

Butte County NAACP President Janet Goodson suggested use of local churches.

At the close of the event, Sandra Knight, a board member who represents the Native American community, noted that because of inter-generational trauma and other issues, many members of the “Native community would not be comfortable coming into this room.”

Aldridge hopes that board members will help the department reach their respective communities. He promised that all material gathered by the survey will be released to the public.

Leslie Layton is editor of ChicoSol. Contributing Editor Natalie Hanson contributed to this story.

5 thoughts on “Chico PD holds its first town hall Homelessness, de-escalation and diversity discussed

  1. I am heartened to see that Chico P.D. is engaging with the public, hopefully it yields positive results for the town. The acknowledgement that another sanctioned camping site would be helpful is another promising shift in the department’s mindset,

  2. The keys to success of a managed campsite are a secure perimeter; a gate monitor system to insure that the criminals are kept out; limit campground populations to 30 -35; have a community building; sufficient case management, and mandatory weekly meetings. These are features common to successful programs. Many of which are missing in Chico shelter programs.

  3. Chief Aldridge and his newly formed PCAB missed an opportunity to set the agenda for future discussion topics.

    I would have liked to hear from Chief Aldridge that all the CPD officers, from patrol officers to lieutenants, are wearing body cameras and that he believes in the transparency of BWC recordings in every police interaction with a civilian.

    Why wasn’t Lexipol explained? Dont the taxpayers need to know why CPD uses a private vendor, the Lexipol company, to set company to set police CPD policy?

    Missing from the PCAB committee were victims of CPD violence. Why isn’t this affected group of civilians represented?

    When will Chief Aldridge share how he and the command staff monitor the officers’ psychological health? Didn’t a recently retired CPD officer commit suicide? Wasn’t a CPD officer held on a 5150? Wasn’t a newly hired CPD officer arrested for domestic violence? Hasn’t the DA charged a CPD officer criminally for drug-related offenses? Didn’t we see on YouTube a viral video of a CPD Sergeant provoking and threatening a civilian who was legally filming an arrest on a traffic stop?

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