A pair of political ads placed by the Simi Valley Police Officers Association raised the eyebrows of residents who submitted comments at Monday’s City Council meeting.
The full-page ads ran in the Oct. 9 and 16 editions of the Simi Valley Acorn; both endorsed the reelection campaigns of Mayor Keith Mashburn and Councilmember Dee Dee Cavanaugh. Neither ad endorsed anyone in the District 3 City Council race, in which incumbent Elaine Litster is squaring off against challengers T.J. McInturff and Ryan Valencia.
In the Oct. 9 ad, the union—which represents about 115 sworn officers and police personnel—said Mashburn and Cavanaugh “understand and support the police officers fully without question.”
Several residents, whose emails were read into the public record during the Oct. 19 meeting, took issue with that statement.
“Do you believe supporting a body of government without question demonstrates good leadership and fiscal responsibility?” one resident’s email said.
The resident went on to express concern about the amount of money SVPOA has contributed to both Mashburn and Cavanaugh’s campaigns.
“Should citizens be concerned that your unquestioning loyalty . . . has been bought? No department should be supported without question. In doing so you’re failing to carry out your duty. If you won’t ask important questions, perhaps we should elect representatives that will.”
Another commenter wrote, “No member of the City Council should be a rubber stamp. We elected you all to serve the public interest, not any particular government agency.”
Some residents were troubled by the ads because they implied that Mashburn and Cavanaugh were the only City Council candidates who supported the police. “Don’t be fooled!” the Oct. 16 ad said. “Other candidates want to defund the police.”
Defunding the police essentially means that funding would be taken away from police departments and reallocated to other community resources, like mental health services, social work or housing.
One resident said they were “surprised and disappointed” by the ads. By not mentioning Litster, the resident said, the ads implied that she was in favor of defunding the police.
“This is inaccurate,” the resident said in their email. “Elaine has always supported and will continue to support the police department.”
All totaled, the SVPOA’s ads elicited around 15 comments from residents.
Tactics raise questions
This isn’t the first time the association’s endorsement tactics have been called into question.
In 2018, the SVPOA was accused of colluding with the three City Council candidates it was endorsing.
The complaint filed by Willard Lubka, a Thousand Oaks resident and the social justice chair for the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley, alleged that then-candidates Mike Judge, Keith Mashburn and Bill Daniels violated the Political Reform Act of 1974, which regulates campaign finances, conflicts of interest and lobbying.
It also raised questions of how much sway the police union has over local elections.
All parties denied the allegations and the Fair Political Practices Commission declined to investigate the matter due to insufficient evidence.
Mashburn said he knew nothing about the SVPOA’s endorsement ads until they came out in the Acorn earlier this month.
“I do support law enforcement in a general sense, nationwide,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “More than I support the police department, I support the residents of this city and want to ensure a crime-free environment and I do that through support for law enforcement.”
Litster was adamant that she does support the police.
“One of my most important priorities (is safety) and I think that is the role of the city—to keep its citizens safe,” Litster said in response to the public comments. “Regardless of what ad was run, I’m not interested in defunding.”
POA President Tim Wedemeyer told the Acorn on Tuesday that the ads weren’t intended to imply that Litster was against the police because, he said, she has been very supportive. Rather, the ads were meant to spotlight the specific candidates the SVPOA had chosen to back.
The candidates were ultimately selected by the police union’s board and it was the board that collectively decided not to endorse any District 3 candidates, he said.
“With everything going on and the negativity we’re seeing, there are people who have an anti-police agenda and some of them are running in this race. We know that Mayor Mashburn and Dee Dee Cavanaugh support the police,” Wedemeyer said.
“But that doesn’t mean that they won’t hold us accountable or ask questions about the budget or daily operations. They just understand that training and personnel are important and they support the police.”
As for the mention of candidates who want to defund police, Wedemeyer said it’s no secret that there are some candidates who want to defund the police, whether they use the term defund, reallocate or redistribute.
“When (local leaders) are talking about defunding and budgetary issues, it comes down to (reducing costs) as much as possible without any implication of what it could do to the safety of a city,” Wedemeyer said, adding that personnel would likely be the first thing cut.
Cavanaugh dismissed the idea that she had been “bought” by the SVPOA and said the claim that one-third of all her campaign contributions had come from the union was untrue.
“When it comes to outside spending by (political action committees), we as candidates don’t have control (and) you’re not allowed to negotiate with them or work with them,” she said. “I have no idea what they spent and I haven’t looked.”
On Tuesday, Wedemeyer said the law only allows the police union PAC to donate $1,000 to campaigns it supports, which it did for both Mashburn and Cavanaugh.
In a letter to the Simi Valley Acorn this week, a resident also expressed concerns about signage.
The PAC bought and placed signs around town that say “Simi Cops endorse” Mashburn and Cavanaugh.
But the resident said the use of “Simi Cops” is deceptive because it infers the SVPOA PAC is speaking on behalf of the Simi Valley Police Department.
In response to that concern, Wedemeyer said: “We are speaking on behalf of Simi Cops.”
On the issue of defunding
Here’s what the other candidates running for mayor, and City Council Districts 1 and 3, had to say about defunding the police. Some responses came from a Sept. 23 virtual candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and others were in direct response to the Acorn this week.
Joe Ayala: “My father was a policeman for many years . . . so the police are near and dear to my heart in many ways. I’m not a defund-the-police type of person but I do think that . . . we should really be using some of that money (on) crime prevention and community outreach. There shouldn’t be an us-and-them attitude between citizens and police.”
Robert Clarizio: “Looking at the breakdown of the budget, it’s right in line with everybody else (but) training is a big issue. I’ve lived here my whole life and the police department has come a long way; it wasn’t even a police department when I got here. I think training with everything going on right now (is) something that needs to be discussed. I’m totally against defunding.”
Brandon Fortuna: “Personally, I believe that 48% is a tad too high. I’m looking at figures from 2018. It seems Thousand Oaks is doing about 8% to 10% less in their police budget with about the same or slightly lower crime rate. I believe we can allocate some of those funds (for SVPD) to fund more social programs (that are) a little more preventive as opposed to punitive.”
Robbie Hidalgo: “Public safety is an absolute hallmark of the city. . . . Defunding the police may go down in history as probably the worst marketing phrase ever conjured up. In order to sustain public safety, we need to consider supplementation of public safety. . . . I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us starting to learn 21st-century policing tactics. So, I’m absolutely against defunding (but) I am for supplementing it.”
Phil Loos: “Despite claims to the contrary, neither I nor any other candidate that I’m aware of has called for defunding our police. . . . What I have asked for is that every city department be held to the same standards of efficiency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.”
T.J. McInturff: “I do not want to defund our police. We have one of the best police departments in the country.”
Ryan Valencia: “I do not support defunding of our police department as we seek to improve training and development of our personnel to maintain our high-quality community policing. I (also) do not discredit the role that social services play in the preemption of crime and will look to identify areas that our county services are failing to meet, whether it be behavioral health or addiction.”
Wayne Hampton Holland III did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.