During this unprecedented period of our history, we’re all living through extremely unsettling times and events. From the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with the near-total economic shutdown; to the recent nationwide protests and political unrest; to the vegetation fire that we had in town last week that could have been so much worse; to the gunman and tragic deaths nearby in Paso Robles – all told, it’s left us feeling overwhelmed. These very weighty issues call for a great deal of thoughtful consideration, many discussions and empathic understanding, none of which can be adequately addressed in the space allowed for this article, but I will attempt to begin a conversation here that I hope continues throughout our community.
When those we want to believe are heroes betray the trust we have placed in them in a horrific manner, as seen recently in Minneapolis between police officers and George Floyd, we must speak out, question, reflect and review. Surrounding these issues, the City has understandably received a lot of inquiries and comments regarding our Use of Force Policies. Anyone with internet access may want to visit the Police Department’s page of the City’s website which has a great deal of information available, including the entire Police Policy Manual, along with information from Chief Jerel Haley regarding our department’s policies in regards to the 8 Can’t Wait Initiative.
Some of our friends and neighbors feel they have experienced racism here in Atascadero. I believe we should all be concerned because this is much more than a police problem; it is a community problem. We must not tolerate racism, individually or collectively. We must seek to uncover our unconscious biases and learn how we can change them. Diversity advocate Vernā Myers warns that our internal, unconscious biases can be dangerous and we all need to work on looking for them, acknowledging our discomfort and then moving toward, not away from, what may make us uncomfortable. We need to expand our circles and build relationships. Finally, when we see something, we need to say something – we need to learn how to speak up if our friends, family members or coworkers say or do something that may be biased. I invite you to watch this video featuring Ms. Myers, “How to Overcome our Biases”.
I believe that anyone should be able to ask that every one of our friends, neighbors and visitors be treated with the kindness, friendliness and understanding that our community prides itself on; and to speak up whenever that expectation is not met. I believe that anyone should be able to ask that each of us be more thoughtful and aware of how our actions may be perceived by others and to try to change those actions for the betterment of all. I believe everyone that lives in, works in or visits our City should be able to fully expect and always receive equal, fair, just and respectful treatment. Our community must not tolerate racism or discrimination in any form.
I also feel compelled and so very proud to say that the Atascadero Police Department is made up of individual men and women doing their very best to serve every member of this community in the most professional and thoughtful manner. Our Police Department has built a culture that does not tolerate racism or excessive use of force. Body Cameras and In-Car Police Cameras allow the department to review every use of force incident and, when warranted, to take appropriate steps, whether it be discipline, counseling, additional training or other action.
I don’t know that as a community, we ever adequately realize or recognize everything our Police Officers routinely do for us. For example, just in recent days, we have asked the men and women of the Atascadero Police Department to keep local protesters and counter-protesters safe, even while some they were protecting were there to denigrate the police; to help over 300 young adults safely enjoy their high-school graduation with a celebratory parade; to put themselves in front of a vegetation fire in order to evacuate residents in its path; to be some of the first assisting officers on the scene, getting shot at while helping to protect our neighbors in Paso Robles; to keep Atascadero residents safe while out on patrol, knowing there was a suspect on the loose who had ambushed other police officers the night before; and if given no alternative option, to be prepared to take an action that could end another’s life. Our officers fully recognize and accept the duties and dangers inherent in their role to serve and protect us, and I believe they fulfill them admirably, on a daily basis.
The men and women of the Atascadero Police Department are not perfect, as are none of us, but every one of them has taken the pledge “to do good” every day and to protect everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or sheltered status. They are truly heroes. I highly encourage anyone who has any concerns about our Police Department to attend a National Night Out or a Coffee with a Cop event, when such events are allowed again, or just ask to have a meaningful conversation with any one of the men and women in the department who work hard for every one of us, every day.
As a community, we are strong and we are resilient. We are one of the most powerful communities on the Central Coast. Throughout any trials we may encounter, Atascadero always rises to the occasion and continues to be a small town filled with caring and conscientious residents who truly look out for one another. I’m so very proud to call this community my home.
Written by Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno