Irvine City Council Expresses Confidence In Police Tactics

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The Irvine City Council at a February 2020 meeting. The Great Park Board is now comprised of the same five members as the Irvine City Council.

Despite calls for reform, no changes were implemented to the Irvine Police Department by the City Council after a special meeting addressing police conduct following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. 

Most of the Tuesday night meeting revolved around the campaign Eight Can’t Wait, a grassroots movement to have police departments across the nation institute eight criteria to reduce fatal interactions with law enforcement, including a ban on chokeholds and required de-escalation techniques. 

According to the Eight Can’t Wait website, the city of Irvine was only meeting three of those criteria, but a presentation by police Chief Mike Hamel showed the police department’s policies were largely in line with the movement’s goals. 

“I do believe we’ve fulfilled these eight policy issues,” Hamel said after his presentation. “We had 26,023 arrests (in the past five years) and of those arrests there was a use of force in only 40 of those encounters. That’s 0.15%.”

“I think this data says something about our training and the people we hire.” 

The only place the city differed with the campaign was on shooting at a moving vehicle, which Hamel explained was authorized only under the circumstance that those driving the vehicle possessed other deadly weapons.

After the chief’s presentation, the council largely made it clear its concerns had been met, with multiple council members praising the police department’s “stellar” performance and thanking Hamel for creating such a comprehensive report with just over 24 hours notice.  

The council members were also unanimously opposed to defunding the police department, stating that comments on social media had twisted their words. 

“I do not support defunding the Irvine Police Department. I do not see, anywhere, in the memo I authored that addresses defunding the Irvine Police Department,” said council member Anthony Kuo. “What I’m seeking is a discussion.”

Mayor Christina Shea also made repeated calls not to link the Irvine Police Department with racial bias or misconduct. 

“We can’t sit here and wrap our wonderful police department and fold our department into some of these departments that have serious problems structurally,” Shea said. “To fold our department into all these other departments is completely unfair and it’s not wise to even suggest that.”

Several public commenters brought up concerns with the Irvine Police Department, sharing stories of racially biased incidents with the agency. 

“The first week I moved to Irvine my Taiwanese father was pulled over for driving a beat up truck & was asked for his citizenship along with license & registration,” wrote commenter Ashley Yang. 

In a phone call after the meeting with Voice of OC, Shea said the city is always open to addressing any bias.

“When residents reach out to me, we set up meetings,” Shea said. “Part of the problem is people will complain but they don’t want to reach out and solve the problem. It could be for very valid reasons.” 

The council delayed taking any action on establishing a task force for community diversity and inclusion after Shea insisted that it was too similar to the Safe Community Task Force, which Shea has repeatedly praised in council meetings as the community’s chance to connect with the police on a variety of issues. 

The council also directed staff to implement implicit bias and sensitivity training for the entire council and any council committees, which City Manager John Russo said could be implemented some time in September.

The debate came after nationwide calls for police reform, and after multiple condemnations of comments by Shea that many residents felt were tone-deaf to the current issues. 

“I will not allow my city to become the location for expression of anger and hate against my residents and my stellar police force, who I stand behind 100%,” Shea said in a video published by the city. “I do not personally support displays that host profanity, comments of our police officers being racist, or promoting hostility.” 

Last week, at a press conference outside City Hall, the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association, Orange County’s only black bar, said that Shea should apologize for her comments in the video and those on her personal Facebook page or resign. 

Multiple members of the council also brought up Shea’s comments on her Facebook page, including a short portion where Councilman Mike Carroll read some of her comments ahead of the special meeting while Shea protested they had not come from her account.

Shea has said multiple times that she will not apologize for her comments, reaffirming her stance in a call with the Voice of OC Tuesday night that the attacks on her statements came from council member Farrah Khan, who Shea said is running for mayor in the upcoming election. 

“It’s been scrutinized to death. There’s something in there that they just don’t appreciate, I think it’s a fine video,” Shea said. “We’re in a campaign season, we’re dealing with all kinds of things. Mike is angry with me because I’m probably not going to be endorsing him for the upcoming campaign, and I think there’s just little nuances going on with certain members.”

Carroll did not respond to requests for comment, and Khan declined to comment on whether she was running for mayor, but after the meeting in a call with Voice of OC expressed disappointment with Shea’s comments. 

“It’s very disappointing to see that she is constantly saying my support for Black Lives Matter or my support of people’s right to protest is equivalent to wanting violence,” Khan said. “It’s unfortunate that we have leadership that is working to divide our community during these critical times.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.