The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota in 2020 renewed an ongoing controversy about the role of policing, and Fontana resident Thomas Tucker II has thought a lot about this issue.
"Society has always been told the police are on your side, they are your friends, they are part of the community, and are here to help -- to protect you, defend you, and keep you safe. But some of us in the world don't feel that," Tucker said.
However, he was intrigued when Fontana Police Chief Billy Green announced one year ago that he wanted to form a citizens' committee which would address some of the key concerns regarding the police in Fontana.
"Chief Green said, 'Let's put in some very real work to make the Police Department what they feel like they already are, and what some people feel they are not, and let's bridge that gap,'" Tucker said.
When Tucker found out that this was truly the mission and goal of the committee, he said: "That's where I've got to be."
And that's where he is today, pleased that he and other Fontana residents have joined the Fontana Police Chief's Roundtable committee and are seeing some positive results -- including becoming a model that other cities can emulate.
Green was praised by the roundtable members for forming a group that includes a diverse group of community members who have different perspectives and opinions but still are united in their desire to improve all aspects of local policing.
Christian Letuli, who is highly motivated by his personal faith, said that his concern grew right after rioting took place in San Bernardino in the days following the George Floyd incident.
"I prayed that night, got up the next morning, went out there and cleaned up, and then had an idea of peaceful prayer and protest," Letuli said.
He attended an event at Fontana Park which promoted nonviolence, and shortly thereafter participated in a panel discussion at City Hall which involved Green, Mayor Acquanetta Warren, and Parks, Community and Human Services Commissioner Felix Jones.
Letuli was very concerned about safety in the city at that time because he saw some rumors on Instagram that "people wanted to burn down the Fontana Police Department."
Fortunately, Letuli said, the chief "did an amazing job" answering questions during the forum and spoke about how Fontana could move forward. The committee was formed, and Letuli said: "Just being part of this group is a great opportunity."
----- THANKS to the committee's research and input, Green advised the city to create a Community Outreach and Support Team (C.O.A.S.T.), which officially began operating on July 1 in order to help people who have confrontations with police while undergoing a mental health crisis. All of the participants are hoping that the presence of plainclothes officers and behavioral health experts at the scene of such incidents will help defuse dangerous situations and reduce the number of persons who are shot by officers.
Roundtable members Susan Poole and Kendra Flores-Carter were heavily involved in the development of C.O.A.S.T., and they are hopeful that this approach could be the wave of the future. Another committee participant, Julian Brambila, said he is also optimistic.
"The chief meets regularly with other city police chiefs and the Sheriff's Department, and if they see a program be successful, I think we can really impact not just our city but beyond that," Brambila said.
In addition, the committee has been a positive influence in an unexpected way, thanks to Jessica Miramontes, who is in the process of getting her doctorate in education. She has used her experience with the group to write a highly-regarded research article about committees and theory of change, thus expanding the roundtable's influence beyond policing and into the academic world.
"This committee advanced an educational topic that's contributing to equity in the workplace and private institutions of higher education for women of color to advance themselves," Miramontes said.
She praised her team members for their contributions to this effort, saying: "They did an incredible job."
One of the key aspects of the committee is its independence from the Police Department, said Karen Rabone.
"The chief wanted us to be in charge of the group," she said. "He didn't want it to be his roundtable."
Committee members can thus feel free to receive input from other local residents -- especially some people who are hesitant about addressing police directly -- and pass those concerns along to Green. Social media will also be utilized to reach out to the people of Fontana.
"I feel it's important that we develop and establish our own social media page and platform, because that lets the community know that we are speaking on their behalf, without any political views or the Police Department views," said Kylene Martinez.
Added Michael Miramontes: "Our function here is to get an ear in the street to find out what the community wants."
So far, the roundtable has been able to provide the community with some of what it wants -- and is hoping for even more of it in the future.