OP-ED on OVN OPINION page: Ojai Councilman Haney: 'Time to put action behind our words'

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By Randy Haney
In light of national policing issues brought about through the tragic killing of George Floyd and the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement, a great deal of concern has arisen on the part of many local citizens regarding Ojai’s current contract renewal with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. I am in complete agreement that now is the time to review, reform and provide complete transparency in our community regarding this contract. I think we are fortunate that this renewal comes at a time when our country is struggling to face the issue of racism and police reform with more honesty and a willingness to grow and change. 
I have to admit that I was at first jolted by the concept of defunding the police, but sometimes, to get our attention, we have to get past the phrasing and be jolted into recognizing that there is a problem. Change can’t begin until we’re willing to look at something from a different perspective. This means that we not only have to acknowledge the problem, we also have to admit that we just don’t know what we don’t know. Therefore, the first step toward change is to listen and pay attention to what others are saying and feeling. We need to realize that we are all human beings and we must be willing to work together toward the greater good. 
So, let’s start with all sides sitting down at the table and helping each other better understand the differences and difficulties of living, working, and policing in our ever-changing community. Police reform is not a one-sided conversation. As we expect our Police Department to change, grow and become more transparent, we must expect this of ourselves, as well. The time is long overdue to truly commit to facing the reality of systemic racism in America and, as a community, we need to ask ourselves how we can become part of the solution. We may want to start with a resolution on behalf of the city of Ojai, acknowledging that black lives matter and that we will not condone, participate in, or accept any form of racism, bigotry or intolerance in our community. 


While this is important, ultimately, these are only words on a page unless we’re willing to put action behind them. In addition to acknowledging the problem and listening to those who have concerns, we need to form a plan of action and follow through on that plan. Throughout the history of racial strife in our country, we’ve gotten to the point where reports are written and plans for change are made, but not enough effort to support the change makes it actually happen. Let it be different this time — especially on our watch. 
Our current sheriff’s contract consumes 33 % of our city budget. It is time to have clarity regarding the services that are provided, their associated costs, and how they are serving the needs of our community, especially in regard to racial disparity. We need to determine if and how the existing services can be modified, if we can we add or delete certain services based on needs, and what new services or types of policing will be available with the new reforms.
Finally, I want to add that Ojai is one of five cities in our county that contracts with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and I think it behooves us to be smart and not go it alone. Though we are the smallest of the cities and some of our needs are unique, I believe that Ojai can lead the way in helping to design a better contract that addresses the issue of racism, making our community and the entire Ventura region a more welcoming and safer place for everyone. 
— Randy Haney is a member of the Ojai City Council.