BY KATRINA MARTIN
Los Alamos County Councilor
Here in Los Alamos I am lucky to live in a safe community. I trust our law enforcement, and in my personal experience I have only ever found the police to be courteous and professional.
However, I recognize that for many Black Americans and other minorities, their experiences of law enforcement are affected by a long history of racial injustice and bias that persists in unequal treatment. In the wake of shocking and unconscionable episodes of police violence caught on film, this summer brought forth a nation-wide movement to address the grievances of the Black community and the fear and challenges people of color face in their interactions withl aw enforcement. During our June 9 County Council meeting, Chair Sara Scott and I committed to working with the County Manager and Chief of Police to examine our practices, identify and implement policy changes, and conduct community outreach to address unconscious bias in our county. We seek to foster confidence among all members of our community that our laws will be enforced consistently and without bias, and that the rights and freedoms of all within our community are protected and upheld.
Our first step is to listen and learn. To that end, last week Chair Scott and I, along with leaders for other community organizations, including Municipal Judge Elizabeth Allen, Police Chief Dino Sgambellone, and Los Alamos Medical Center CEO John Whiteside, participated in a listening session with about 30 people from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Laboratory participants included members of the African American employee resource group SOUL. This meeting gave us the opportunity to hear directly from one segment of the community about their experiences, concerns, and ideas for how we can work together in the future to, as one participant said, “stand out as an
exceptional place with respect to racial justice.”
Participants from the community organizations in attendance noted their interest in continuing to develop a deeper understanding of concerns regarding systemic racism in our community through continued conversations and developing relationships and trust. We recognize the need for ongoing dialogue and listening without judgement. We need to work together to make Los Alamos a place where all people feel like they belong, where they can live without the fear or consequences of how they are treated by the schools, law enforcement agents, and community members. We must continue to examine the practices in our community that limit or negatively impact Black people.
Participants also shared examples of actions their organizations have taken to move forward.
Chief Sgambellone noted his commitment to accountability and transparency through their Body Worn Camera Program and National Accreditation. The Los Alamos Police Department has undergone several initiatives in the last two months as well. They underwent training on implicit bias and their duty to intervene if another officer is using excessive force, failing to provide medical care to someone in custody, or attempting to make a false arrest. They have scheduled future training on de-escalation and cultural diversity. Chief Sgambellone is also currently making modifications to policies surrounding resisting arrest, including use of choke holds and positional asphyxiation, as well as crowd control and prohibited tactics. Judge Allen also conducted a training on implicit bias with the municipal court staff, and she has personally committed to listening, learning, and reflecting on court practices. Chair Scott and I are continuing to gather information and identify potential options that could be considered at the County level.
Our community and our nation can only truly be strong, united, and peaceful when everyone feels safe and welcome. We must revise our policies and systems to be equitable and just. The meeting we had this past week was just a first step in a much longer journey. We can take steps not only as a county but also as individuals. As a Council member, a teacher in our public schools, and a citizen, I am personally committed to examining my own implicit biases and reforming my practices. I welcome the people of Los Alamos to join me in doing the same.