Unpleasantness at the Police Review Board, and Good Be Well News!

There was unpleasantness at last Thursday’s Police Review Board meeting. Harsh words were deployed, old grievances resurfaced, recriminations were volleyed, angry exits were beheld. And in retrospect I think it all started with a basic misunderstanding – many people in power just don’t understand people like my wife Donna. And she’s not the only one like her either, there are others – people who care about everybody in Anaheim, and are trying to improve things for ALL the people even if it might sound like they’re complaining about their own personal situation.

City staff just doesn’t grasp the phenomenon of community advocates.

This started out about the Be Well program – in which trained mental health workers respond to mental health crises around town, rather than overburden the police with matters they’re not needed for, are not trained for, and which in the past they have sometimes responded to with unnecessary violence. Anaheim contracted with Be Well ten months ago, partly due to Donna’s lobbying for it, and it’s been very successful, taking a lot of work off our police, and saving lives. (And we’re happy to report some good news on Be Well below.)

But here’s the thing – residents who experience a need for this service (if they even KNOW about it, it hasn’t been publicized much) are supposed to call APD Dispatch to request them to dispatch the Be Well Van. And one evening a few weeks ago, Donna tried calling for a person in our neighborhood who was having a crisis, and nothing worked out as it was supposed to.

  • The first APD dispatcher she reached knew nothing about any Be Well van, but tried to be helpful and gave her the number to the Be Well facility in Orange – but they don’t dispatch vans from there, only APD dispatch does.
  • But Donna tried that anyway, had to try several different extensions, and she finally got a hold of someone at the “crisis stabilization center.” They said there was room there, but didn’t know how to dispatch a van, and put Donna on hold while they tried to find out. After a while on hold Donna hung up, tried a few more times….
  • Then she finally called APD dispatch again. This dispatcher had no idea what the Be Well van was at first, but finally said, “OH! You mean the Hope Van!” That dispatcher called the “Hope Van” workers (or “team”), who called Donna a few minutes later, but it was already almost 9pm which is when the “Hope Van” goes to bed, and the situation had started to stabilize, so Donna just “called the whole thing off.”

Think how impossible this would have been for a regular Anaheim resident who barely KNEW anything about Be Well.

And also, you would think the Police Review Board was the appropriate venue to bring up this issue – after TEN MONTHS, the APD dispatchers are still not trained to dispatch the Be Well “Hope Van,” let alone improvise some triage to determine if that would be the appropriate response. So Donna described this situation in public comments there… and got a response she did not expect.

The meetings are run by an Assistant Anaheim City Manager I won’t name because she’s very sensitive, and I don’t want her thinking I’m “complaining about her.” She responded, “Donna, YOU HAVE the numbers of the people who run Be Well, you could have called them.It’s true that we have the number of Marshall Moncrief, Be Well’s creator & CEO who gave us a tour last year; and we have the number of Memory Núñez, Be Well’s Anaheim Supervisor.

But those aren’t people that we’re gonna call up late at night to dispatch the “Hope Van.” That’s not how it’s supposed to work – the APD dispatcher is supposed to do that. And is this Assistant City Manager suggesting that other residents who might need the Be Well van should just call Marshall or Memory if the APD dispatcher is confused? (Like they even know who Marshall and Memory are!)

Donna and I have LOTS of powerful people’s numbers, due to our years as activists, and a lot of people are eager to help us when we or someone we know have a problem. Our Councilman Steve Faessel is particularly helpful whenever we need anything, and we really do appreciate it. But Steve’s got like 6000 people in his district, they can’t all be calling him. We are trying to help make things work right for everybody.

At this point in the history of Anaheim’s Police Review Board, when there haven’t been any very controversial killings in a few years besides that of Brandon Lopez in 2021, the public attendance is down to 4 or 5 people who could generally be described as “community advocates,” who to one degree or another are trying to make constructive reform for the good of all Anaheim residents. They are not SQUEAKY WHEELS to be PACIFIED.

Miscellaneous Unpleasantness

Regrettably there’s a little more on the unpleasantness front from last meeting, which helps explain why tempers were lost. Just after the PREVIOUS meeting Donna had approached one of the board members, a young man, to discuss her ideas on improving commenting policies, and he said to her, “Well, some of the public commenters are not very educated, so they use bad language.” Donna didn’t like his remark about her fellow commenters, so she recounted that conversation in her comment Thursday, and he interrupted: “I DID NOT SAY THAT.”

Well, actually he did. I know because I was standing there too when he said it. He shouldn’t have said, “I didn’t say that” but maybe “That was inartfully expressed and what I meant was bla bla bla” or something. But now he was calling Donna a liar, which made things worse. And now I’ll have to point out that his original remark was funny-ironic, because he went on to say, while bemoaning the public’s lack of “education,” that the naughty language they use “destroys the quorum” – quorum being a favorite word of this young man, which he should look up, because he apparently has it confused with “decorum.”

Okay, that’s all. We do appreciate all the time these volunteers put into this board, AND we have…

Good News on the Be Well Front

We’d been worried about Anaheim’s Be Well program, as a year ago it was carefully described as a “pilot program,” and it has NOT been publicized much. But apparently the folks in charge in Anaheim consider it a success, as Memory tells me they are getting a SECOND VAN soon. So far we’ve had only ONE van, with two workers, working from 9am to 9pm – less than Huntington Beach for example with half our population. But now with two, they can expand their hours, for one thing. When does this start, when’s the council vote so we can support them? Memory’s still not sure but we’ll let you know!

The program has been freeing up the police to do the kind of work THEY’RE trained to do, and Memory confirms that it has saved lives these ten months – not just the calls that may have conceivably gone sideways if the cops responded, but many calls they’ve responded to from troubled minors. Memory invited Donna and me to meet with her and her colleagues soon, to help figure out how to publicize this fine program better, and to deal with this problem of APD dispatcher training.

More to come…

I’ll publish this now, but soon we’ll look at:

  • Donna’s ideas on how to improve the commenting policies AND board selection process at our Anaheim PRB,
  • and the Santa Ana Police Review Board, which will have many powers ours doesn’t, and should be active by April.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.