A little-known College of Marin police committee that has operated quietly and with no public involvement will now become a public body subject to the state’s open meetings law.
College trustees voted unanimously to transform the Campus Policing and Public Safety Advisory Council into a public panel reporting to the board. The change goes into effect Jan. 1.
Previously, the council was a private committee that served under the college president. The public meeting structure will be subject to California’s open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Damian Morgan, a Black resident of Marin City, told trustees at a recent meeting that he favors the change.
“Marin County is the most inequitable county in the state,” Morgan said. “Folks have questions. They want to know what is happening.”
Jana Blunt, a spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union chapter representing College of Marin police officers, told trustees that the public process will be better for the members.
“Police have been in the dark about issues that affect their livelihoods,” Blunt said.
The college said Monday that there have been no reported incidents or legal complaints of police discrimination or racial profiling on the campuses since the creation of the COM Police Services Task Force in 2021.
The task force completed its work in 2022 and recommended the formation of a regular standing committee involving students, staff and the community. The college’s president, David Wain Coon, took up the charge in January and established the standing committee.
“There’s been a movement over the past few years to reform traditional policing practices in communities across the nation with a greater focus on what is referred to as community policing,” Coon wrote in a letter to the college community when he established the committee.
“Following the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Brianna Taylor, protesters and leaders from across the country called for police reform in the United States,” Coon wrote.
Coon appointed Mia Robertshaw, the college’s general counsel, as the non-voting chair of the police advisory committee.
“The advisory council’s charge is broad, allowing it to address various facets of campus policing and public safety,” Robertshaw said in an email after the board vote.
“In this work, the advisory council recognizes the historic and systemic prejudices and disparities which impact campus safety, and strives to promote a peaceful, welcoming and inclusive campus environment,” she said.
Under the Brown Act, which governs municipal and public school agencies in the state, public bodies are required to post advance notice of their scheduled meetings, with agendas that dictate what matters may be addressed.
Members of the public are invited to attend the meetings, and are given a chance to comment if they wish. Most Brown Act meetings have open time, to take comment on matters that are not on the agenda, as well as time to comment on each posted agenda item.
This year, Morgan, a former director of the Marin City Community Services District, applied for membership in the advisory committee, but was turned down.
Robertshaw said Morgan was turned down because there was only one vacant seat, and it was designated for a person with law enforcement experience. The vacancy was created by the resignation of retired Fairfax police chief Chris Morin.
“We continue to seek seek a community representative on the advisory council with law enforcement experience,” Robertshaw said.
According to Robertshaw, the Campus Policing and Public Safety Advisory Council includes three students, three faculty members, three administrators and four community members.
The committee met more than a half-dozen times this year, but did not release any recommendations.
College of Marin student Will Davidson, a member of the advisory committee, said at a recent board meeting that he hopes the new public structure will allow the group to come up with some strong recommendations for campus safety and security.
“I do know people are very passionate about safety on campus,” Davidson told trustees. He said most student confrontations with police seem to happen in the parking lots.
“Our main goal with the committee is looking at enforcement methods,” Davidson said.
The group has also been looking at incident reports and safety models from other community colleges, with the idea that they will eventually come forward with a recommendation for a plan to govern police and campus operations, Davidson said.
College trustee Stephanie O’Brien said she welcomes more public and staff scrutiny on how to improve security at the college’s campuses.
“I’m looking forward to us having more discussions over what to do” to improve safety, O’Brien said.
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