June 11, 2020 Moonshine Minutes
The June 8 town hall was advertised as a platform for Town of Truckee staff and council, the police department, and residents to share a dialog about combating police violence and systematic racism in law enforcement.
Simmering close to the surface and blowing up on social media, however, was an email police Chief Robert Leftwich had sent out June 1 to all town staff sharing a breakdown of demonstration vs. protest vs. riot, and the police department’s role during such acts. He also provided his insight on police interactions and the “constant state of adaptation around community perceptions,” particularly with audio and video recordings.
Most notable in the email, based on community reaction, was Leftwich’s opinion on the death of George Floyd — a black man killed May 25 in Minneapolis by a police officer that sparked protests across the nation and beyond. Leftwich wrote that Floyd was not innocent, that he didn’t die because of a knee on his neck, though it did contribute to his death, and that the actions of those rioting across the world in response to Floyd’s death were not justifiable responses.
I’m Alex Hoeft, here with today’s Moonshine Minutes.
The leaked email led to public calls for his job and resulted in planning commissioner Nikki Riley stepping down from her position in protest. A week after the fact, Leftwich was in front of a microphone to listen and respond to over 180 comments submitted to the town on the topic of his message and a culture of racism some saw within the police department. The comments, by the way, are available through the town’s public records online.
“I think there’s a few things I really need to say that might not make any difference for those who’ve already been disappointed in me,” Leftwich said at the meeting, apologizing for his words and sharing that Floyd’s death was “a tragedy that has sparked a bigger conversation that probably was so needed in our country.”
Truckee Mayor Dave Polivy said ultimately, the meeting was a success, especially considering how fast it came together. A number of involved town staff, he said, “poured their heart and soul into trying to have this very robust and open discussion.”
The 180-plus comments received were summarized based on topics like de-escalation training, the town’s law enforcement budget, and building relationships between the department and Truckee’s people of color. The town’s filtering process of the comments had two steps, Polivy said:
“One was if the tone or the subject matter were the same for the most part, we decided to group all of that together rather than read individual comments, and that’s so we had more time to touch on [the topics]. We also chose to moderate comments that either had derogatory language, that had personal attacks, or had any type of … curse words. We did get a lot of those that were simply not appropriate [to be read out loud].”
All comments submitted, positive and negative, read or not, were recorded and are part of public record. Polivy said no live comments were permissible during the town hall due to the possibility of inappropriate language being used. Other than opening and closing statements made by Polivy and Leftwich, the entire meeting centered around the reading of and responding to public comments.
Comments about Leftwich weren’t just from the public. Two current-yet-anonymous Town of Truckee staff members reached out to Moonshine to share their frustration about the email and the fallout since.
Of Leftwich’s stated apology, one of the staff members said, “Regret is very different from remorse … If you read between the lines of his statement, it is very clear there is no heartfelt apology, merely a sentiment that he regrets that he was misunderstood. It’s clear that he doesn’t see the issue with what he said.”
The second town staffer said they corresponded with multiple coworkers about the email after it was sent out, and some were certainly in favor of Leftwich’s comments. Allegedly, Tthe majority of coworkers this staff person spoke with, however, were angry.
“Upset really isn’t the right word for it. People were pissed. People were outraged. Most of the people I spoke to could not believe what was happening and were shocked and saddened and really, really angry. Not only that this was a racist view that our police chief took, but that we had to read about it at work and felt unable to respond.”
Both staff members said they hoped Leftwich would step down.
Nikki Caravelli, meanwhile, said she thinks asking that of Leftwich would be too divisive a move. A Truckee local who recently moved to Sacramento, Caravelli explained that though she disagrees with his mention during the town hall that there is no racism within his department, saying his “white privilege may be be getting in the way of him seeing that,” it’s challenging to balance desire for change with the compassionate understanding that the chief is human.
Truckee’s chief of police position is not an electable one. Leftwich reports to the town manager, Jeff Loux, who was unable to comment on the situation. Leftwich himself did not respond to Moonshine’s interview requests.
Head to moonshineink.com for the full story, Town Hall on Race Relations Responds to Police Chief’s Rhetoric.