Ukiah Police Chief Justin Wyatt told the Ukiah dudes who host the weekly “Like It or Not” podcast last week that police are not in the “property recovery” business. Referring to an apparent increase in retail theft associated with California’s recent decriminalizing of smaller quantities of drugs, Wyatt said that store owners who are robbed nowadays typically just want their stuff back; they do not get involved in the time-consuming criminal justice system. But, Wyatt said, police can’t just go take stuff from people because somebody else said it was stolen. In addition, the stuff could be evidence in a criminal case. Wyatt said it puts cops in an uncomfortable position of telling store owners that they have to file a criminal complaint for cops to pursue the theft as a crime when the store owner is reluctant to do it.
Wyatt also cautiously said, “We haven’t made much progress in following the Marbut report.”
Actually, there’s no evidence that any progress has been made on the Marbut Report, despite a few minor claims to the contrary by the “Continuum of Care” and its large cadre of helpers. The County’s “homeless plan” — as they say so openly — is primarily to make sure that money keeps coming in to fund the 30-some agencies and non-profits who are paid to deal with homelessness.
“We spend a lot of time going to mental illness calls, like somebody yelling at cars,” said Wyatt, adding that there aren’t very many “tools” for police to help people who are being annoying but not committing a crime. “We are talking mobile crisis response,” Wyatt continued, “but it’s moving very slow.”
“Very slow,” is an understatement, since the Measure B funded crisis van is not on anyone’s priority list to follow-up on, much less get it staffed. Measure B funds were authorized last June for three such mobile crisis units and in the year that has followed the Mental Health Department has managed to hire one (1) person and there’s no one else in the pipeline.
Wyatt said that while there are dedicated, professional people in the “supportive services area,” “the system they are working in is broken and it’s been broken for a long time and it has not evolved to where it needs to be. So law enforcement is stuck holding the bag. We get calls for homeless and mentally ill and we’re not trained to deal with that. In fact, there’s a lot of pressure for law enforcement to stay in their lane. They don’t want us dealing with mentally ill when it’s not a crime.”
Yet such calls still make up a huge percentage of cops’ time, as even a casual glance at the call logs shows.
Wyatt also noted that more and more younger cops, while decent young cops, just don’t have the kind of “life experience” that allows them to deal with some of the older people they frequently have to deal with. Wyatt asked rhetorically, What is a young cop supposed to do when he’s faced with an older person who’s been involved in domestic disputes for all their lives? Sometimes, they’re put in difficult situations but they just haven’t been around long enough to de-escalate effectively even if they’ve been trained.
Wyatt said he’s retiring in September at the age of 54 after being Ukiah’s Police Chief for about three years. He said that Police Chiefs don’t last as long as they used to and that three years is about the average these days.
With Fort Bragg “interim” Police Chief John Naulty expected to step down in the next few months as well, that will leave Mendo with newish police chiefs in the three towns with police forces — although former Fort Bragg Chief and current Willits Chief Fabian Lizarraga has a couple of years of Fort Bragg experience. But we assume Lizarraga, who is also 54, will be up for retirement soon as well.