Arlington City Council signaled a focus on unity and equality with one swift motion Tuesday night.
City council members unanimously approved the creation of a Unity Council aimed at increasing citywide equality through community input and examining equity strategies.
Council member Marvin Sutton said during the meeting that the Unity Council should be a long-term committee that examines discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
“Our focus should be on the discrimination and the disparity that affects each group moving forward,” Sutton said.
The council will be composed of 15 members from the Community Relations Commission, with one nomination per council member and two nominations by Mayor Jeff Williams, according to the resolution. Members will gather community input and study equity strategies that could prevent discrimination before presenting their findings to the city.
The resolution establishes the Unity Council, but its specific responsibilities will be discussed at future meetings. The council could begin reporting periodically by August.
Williams said the Unity Council’s responsibilities will continue to be discussed at future city council meetings, but it was important to take action now.
“We’re trying to take action when we can,” Williams said. “We’re trying to be thoughtful; we’re trying to listen, give opportunity for dialogue there so that we can move ahead.”
Council member Barbara Odom-Wesley said the city council agreed to adding a charge that the Unity Council would provide a developed racial equity plan following its studies. The city council also discussed adding five advisory positions representing all segments of the community, such as nonprofit and faith-based organizations.
Applications for the Unity Council will open Wednesday so city council members can start reviewing possible appointments soon.
The city council followed its Unity Council discussions with a presentation on Arlington Police policies.
Arlington Police Department has remained largely on the forefront of modern policing, but there are ways to improve, Interim Police Chief Jaime Ayala said.
Ayala presented details for reviewing the department’s use of force policies and treatment of mental health issues while advocating for continued conversation about how to improve. Police relations are the department’s business, he said.
“It’s all about building trust and working together to solve community problems, reduce crime and thereby enhancing public safety for everyone,” Ayala said.
The department’s use and application of force continuum and the reviewing of incidents involving force are central to police reform, he said.
The Force and Tactics unit analyzes all use of force reports and provides expert instruction on the use of tactics for officers, according to the presentation. The unit was integral to reviewing the department’s use of tasers before the technique was moved to a higher level of force on the department’s use of force continuum.
The Arlington Police Department recently amended its use of force continuum to classify the vascular neck restraint technique as deadly force, according to a previous Shorthorn article.
When complaints alleging significant misconduct are submitted, an investigation will be initiated by an internal affairs unit, Ayala said. If deadly force is used, a criminal investigation and administrative investigation will be initiated.
At the end of the investigation, the case will be turned over to the District Attorney’s office, which has its own law enforcement investigation team.
Every officer is equipped with body cameras that automatically turn on in certain situations. Traffic stops, removing a shotgun or rifle from a car and running are some of the actions that trigger the cameras.
Arlington police offer a number of different programs through their website, aiming to partner and connect with the community. Ayala has been involved in multiple forums and panels since Floyd’s death, which he said is important in engaging with the community and listening.
Ayala participated in a virtual town hall hosted by Sutton on Monday evening that focused on conversing with community members about police policies and reform.
Ayala said the Arlington Police Department is a model agency because it strives to be the best it can be while serving the community with compassion and fairness.
“I just want to remind this body that we have a solid foundation to continue leading the way,” he said.