It was only his second day on the job, but Police Chief Andrew Mills may have already had one of the tougher meetings of his entire Palm Springs career.
Mills, speaking during a Desert Highland Gateway Estates Community Action Association meeting Tuesday evening, repeated many of the messages neighbors had heard from police before. Like many in law enforcement who have visited the James O. Jesse Desert Highland Unity Center, he urged residents to work with officers to help curb crime and violence that has plagued the neighborhood for decades. Still, he offered at least a glimmer of hope that methods yet to be implemented could help.
For both Mills and the 16 community members in attendance, the meeting was a feeling-out session. But it was also an essential first step as the police department’s new leader tries to build trust with residents who too often unsuccessfully plead with City Hall their case for crucial services in their neighborhood.
With less than 48 hours on the job, it’s too early to know whether Mills can effect change. But based on the discussion Tuesday evening, there is at least agreement that a new approach should be explored.
“Enforcement isn’t the only option,” he told the audience. “There are other solutions to the problem of violence. Just coming in here jawing all the time is not going to solve it.”
Mills knows a few things about solving violent crime. He serves as executive chair of the California Violence Prevention Grant Program — formed to reduce gang violence through prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies — and on the board of the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem Oriented Policing.
Solutions funded through the grant program could be implemented in Palm Springs, he said. Examples include hiring a violence intervention specialist, training staff to support those dealing with the immediate after-effects of shootings or other traumatic events, and deterrence methods that don’t involve arresting those who commit violent crimes.
Although ethics rules prevent him from voting on any grant funds that would be allocated in the city, he assured audience members, “There are some resources that could be got,” and he would help secure them.
Many in the audience, including members of the Action Association’s board, have repeatedly asked the city to tackle issues of crime and violence in their neighborhood at the root. They repeated those requests Tuesday, telling Mills that they don’t just need changes in policing methods but more affordable housing and essential services such as grocery stores and doctors’ offices found in every city neighborhood but theirs.
“We want to come up with programs for our youth,” said Deiter Crawford, vice president of the organization. “We know we can’t arrest our way out of this.”
Mills agreed, acknowledging that “Police are not the solution.” He asked for patience initially, allowing him to study data associated with crime in the neighborhood, including frequent reports of gunshots.
“I’m not just going to throw things at the wall and see what sticks,” said Mills. “We don’t have the staff for that. It’s going to take data. I don’t have all the data yet. I don’t have all the details. But I’m committed to finding a solution and working with you.”