The City and County Boards of Commissioners of the Fresno Housing Authority have approved the renewal of a $300,000 contract with the Fresno Police Department.
Central Valley Urban Institute, Black Women for Wellness and the California Legislative Black Caucus spoke in opposition of the board’s decision, stating the funds could be better invested in resident services or harm reduction. The criticism echoed what was said nearly a year prior by community organizations including the Fresno Barrios Unidos, Council on American Islamic Relations, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, and Faith in the Valley regarding Fresno Housing’s relationship with the police department.
Despite opposition, all the Fresno County board commissioners voted on May 25 to renew; all but Commissioner Sabrina Kelly on the city board supported the police contract.
The 12-month contract with Fresno PD begins July 1 and pays for two officers to patrol Fresno Housing properties seven days a week. According to Fresno Housing Interim CEO Angie Nguyen, Fresno Housing will pay $200,357 of the contract.
“I feel that this next 12 month contract is what we need to do at this moment,” Adrian Jones, city board chair, said.
The board approved an additional $200,000 for a harm-reduction outside of policing program, requiring a partnership with a community benefit organization which has not been named. The board has had conversations with Barrios Unidos and Faith in the Valley.
Some commissioners say policing is necessary; public says otherwise
While the contract was widely accepted by the city and county boards, several members of the public and a statement from the California Legislative Black Caucus opposed the renewal.
“On the one year anniversary of (the death of) George Floyd and as our state dives deep on how to address racial equity, I’m disappointed that the commission is deciding to invest funds that could be invested in youth development,” said Nourbese Flint, director of Black Women for Wellness.
Eric Payne, executive director of the Central Valley Urban Institute, said that in renewing the contract, Fresno Housing has continued “to overpolice some of the most marginalized residents in the country” and has “failed to produce any goals, outcomes or deliverables, other than the harm that has been inflicted on its residents.”
Payne later told The Bee he is concerned with language within the contract and the lack of transparency on the ad hoc committee’s process.
“Everyone wants protection and should have it,” Payne said. “I think it’s the ‘how (should protection be provided)?’ Does the contract hold police accountable for present and future behavior?”
Shyelance Allen, a 17-year-old Roosevelt High School graduating senior, cited his personal experience with police when he was 11 years old as a reason for not extending Fresno Housing contract with Fresno police. He asked that the board should instead invest in resident services.
“The police came knocking on the door looking for someone who violated their parole. My niece opened the door, and she was only eight at the time,” Allen said. “When I came out of the room, they had a gun pointed at her even though she was a child.”
Kelly, the only commissioner to vote against the renewal, asked the board to survey more residents and look at alternatives before entering another year-long contract.
“What I am concerned about is the current status of community policing and its impact on people of color and also looking at the investment of policing as one of the primary and most cost-burdened options that we have for safety,” Kelly said.
She also questioned why the agency needed a contract when police would respond to crime reported at Fresno Housing facilities without a contract.
“There is no data we have on record that says because we are paying for two police contracts that we get a higher response rate,” Kelly said. “The police will respond because it is their duty to respond, not because they are on the payroll of Fresno Housing.”
Fresno Housing District Manager, Lorena Betancourt, said during public comments that she has “seen firsthand, the need for the police presence at some of our sites.”
Betancourt invited anyone who feels that police are not warranted at the sites to tour their facilities.
Jones, chair of the Fresno city board, said she understands the criticism against moving forward with the contract but believes it was the best way to provide a safe community for residents.
“I want to say as a Black chair with one child, who is a male, who was 22 years old when Treyvon Martin was murdered, that I hear everyone; I hear you every single day,” Jones said before affirming that the contract was necessary.
Commissioner Sharon WIlliams, who is a resident of public housing in Southwest Fresno, said she has seen and experienced first hand systemic racism, yet, like Jones, she feels that having a police presence is necessary.
“I am a Black woman who sat in a courtroom and watched, as far as I’m concerned, a very racist judge give my son 85 years to life,” Williams said.
“There is an imbalance going on,” she added, “and it’s not going to be fixed by me jeopardizing my health by listening to these helicopters over our house every night, hearing shots.”
Williams said she frequently worries about stray bullets coming through her housing or hitting her as she walks down the street in Southwest Fresno.
“So do I want to get rid of the police? I absolutely do not. Do I want them to be fair? Do I want to honor that badge and honor that suit? I absolutely hold them responsible.”
Commissioner Ruby Yanez, who also resides in public housing in Southwest Fresno, agreed that police presence will provide safety for residents.
“Without cops, our lives are in danger,” Yanez said. “I’m very against the whole issue with the whole George Floyd thing going on, that happened in a whole different area. The police officers here should not be blamed for something that happened not here.”
“I love my colored people; I love them to death, OK, and absolutely I believe that police officers that wear a badge should honor their badge,” she added before her audio cut out.
The contract renewal was approved on the same day Fresno Housing announced the appointment of the first Fresno Housing Chief Diversity Officer, Marc’ Bady.
“I appreciate the warmth and kindness you all have already shown me,” Bady said at the end of the meeting, “and the passion and dedication you all are already displaying on some of the most difficult topics right now that a lot of folks in the country are having and some are avoiding.”