Santee examines COMPOC

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Courtesy Photo.

City leaders turned the spotlight on local government in a Sept. 14 Community Oriented Policing Committee meeting that focused almost entirely on inclusion, diversity and better communication between staff members.

Santee City Manager Marlene Best said staff had an opportunity to discuss how protests held in the community over summer affected employees.

“Out of that, we had a good conversation with Erica (Hard)in Human Resources. These programs are internal but they reference how we want to face the world,” Best said.

Hardy, Santee Director of Human Resources and Risk Management, presented a plan she described as a way for Santee to recognize its past and “move forward with an authentic effort to heal and a commitment to do better.”

The plan takes a three-prong approach to evaluate current processes to identify barriers against access, educate staff on appreciating everyone and engage employees by creating diverse internal teams.

“Even though we’re not in a perfect place, we’re ready to start,” Hardy said.

She said the three-prong approach will be used with individuals internally to address biases as well as at a department level to attract and keep diverse talent.

Hardy said components of that internal approach could include targeted advertising for more diverse recruitment; objective evaluation and rating of candidates developed with subject matter experts; training hiring managers and rater panels to avoid potential bias and nepotism for hiring practices that better support building culturally diverse departments.

Part of that approach also includes a realistic focus on progress over perfection, Hardy said, and an expectation that leaders will consistently exhibit cultural intelligence when they assess policies and procedures to determine who will benefit from workplace decisions.

Citing a need for empathy, Hardy said cultural intelligence can also be applied to public outreach. A few suggestions she made: honoring local heroes who promote diversity and inclusion, using existing partnerships to strengthen community engagement and infusing city events with cultural components.

As an example, Hardy said she and Best talked about adding culturally diverse food offerings to public celebrations like the summer festival.

Committee member Mark Foreman questioned how the plan, which focuses primarily on internal Santee government affairs, ties into committee work and the community.

“What you’re laying out is important stuff but I’m not hearing a lot oriented around the committee. I’m not hearing a direct connection into the crime side or the policing side,” Foreman said.

Hardy replied the plan is “more for the mayor and Marlene” but believes if employees learn to think about the impact of their decisions through the lens of racial diversity, it will feed into the community.

“A perfect example of what we’ve already done is we discovered we were not reaching a certain population with a form on the website due to a language barrier. We needed to add that in a different language because it was an access issue. Those are things we hope to start doing on a staff level,” Hardy said.

Santee Mayor John Minto said his point of reference is based on understanding he doesn’t know what it is like to walk in anyone else’s shoes and that people have different biases based on their personal experiences.

“Sometimes our biases get in the way. I’m not saying everyone is racist but someone’s bias could lead them to question ‘Why are you bringing this to me?’ Well I want my staff to know everyone is the right person to talk about a concern,” Minto said.

In addition, Minto, who heads the community oriented policing committee, also announced he has decided to create a subcommittee specifically to address diversity and inclusion.

“COMPOC is extremely broad in scope. Dialing in on diversity and inclusion, this is not necessarily the best place for it. I’ve decided to create a subcommittee for it and have them talk about diversity and inclusion, create and present programs,” Minto said.

The mayor said he will designate members of the subcommittee, chosen from the current pool of committee members, with one person chosen to facilitate subcommittee meetings and provide a monthly report on progress.

He did not announce when that subcommittee will be formed nor when it would begin regular meetings.

Best reported a staff member has offered to “help design a page just for your subcommittee so COMPOC would have its own page and the subcommittee would have its own page” in keeping with Minto’s August 10 commentary where he loosely suggested a committee webpage housed within the city’s main website.

Best said the community is looking for answers she doesn’t currently have but wants people to know staff is doing something to improve diversity and inclusion, even if it isn’t readily apparent, that it has been a challenge to move forward and publicly address racism in the community with current public health orders limiting interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the topic has been addressed from a business perspective and special effort is being made to reach out to minority-owned businesses with CARES funding to help them stay in business.

“Once we get to where we can do things in the community, after COVID, we want to focus on unity and inclusion,” Best said, citing her goal to focus on commonalities rather than differences.