Subcommittee on Laws that Decriminalize Survival

Preliminary Recommendations of the Subcommittee on Laws that Decriminalize Survival


In this document, the Subcommittee on Laws Criminalizing Survival provides an introduction of “criminalized” issues in the city of Alameda that create unnecessary burdens for residents, law enforcement, and surrounding communities at large in Alameda. We then provide a list of preliminary recommendations for APD and city leadership on how to address these issues. Ultimately, we hope that by building coalitions of support across residents and policy bodies and committing to larger goals of liberation, we can build towards a community where everyone truly “belongs.”

Overview on Criminalization of Survival


While it is not illegal to be homeless in Alameda, unhoused populations face consequences around criminalization and often find themselves involved, as a result, with members of the Alameda Police Department (APD). We recognize that it is the policy of APD to provide law enforcement services to all members of the community while protecting the rights, dignity, and private property of the homeless. However, we would like to explore options that de-center policing through an educational campaign: we hope to provide information for residents that promotes non-police options, all the while providing up-to-date information about resources available for unhoused populations.

Currently, the City of Alameda has put together a page on the city's website that collects the many excellent resources we have available here, but we hope to explore further options. How can we ensure that information on the website is kept up to date? Furthermore, how can we explore alternate forms of communication (snail mail, social media) to ensure that we reach a wide audience?

Nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, current information is more necessary than ever to ensure that our community remains aware, caring, understanding and helpful. We hope that redirection and resources will direct folks away from intentionally contacting police in retaliatory or vindictive manners, and that social services, rather than criminalization-reliant practices, are emphasized.

Fines, Fees, and Revenue Generation

The American criminal justice system has developed an increased reliance on the usage of monetary sanctions (fines, fees, restitution, cash bail, traffic ordinances, and others). This has disproportionately affected indigent communities and people of color, who find themselves stuck in “cycles of poverty and punishment”. Locally, Alameda police enforce traffic and vehicle citations in a way that disproportionately target BIPOC and low-income individuals.

As a whole, the state of California has been on the cutting edge of policy reform around the issues of fines and fees. In 2016, the city of San Francisco became the first in the nation to launch the Financial Justice Project, a government-based program to assess and reform the levying of fines and fees throughout the county. The project has served as a model for cities across California, and we look to the goals of the Financial Justice Project as a template for which the city of Alameda can base its reforms upon. The passage of AB 1869 in September 2020 (which eliminated a multitude of administrative fines and fees imposed in the California justice system) also signifies that Californians are growing increasingly concerned about the entanglement between poverty, debt, and the criminal justice system. As the state legislature found, “Because these fees are often assigned to people who simply cannot afford to pay them, they make poor people, their families, and their communities poorer.” (AB 1869, Sec. 1(g)).

We hope to use our time in this committee to continue this momentum towards progress by exploring possibilities that the City of Alameda can take. We envision, for one, the creation of a Fines and Fees task force with the city, composed of community members, members of law enforcement, and legislative body members. We also hope to further explore the possibility of reforms that allow low-income individuals to pay off traffic fines and citations and to create an income verification database for all city agencies to utilize, and to encourage the City to evaluate the effects of private parking, tow, and traffic fines and fees on BIPOC/low-income residents of Alameda. Our goal reflects those of the San Francisco Office of the Treasurer and other financial advocacy communities: we seek to “alleviate the administrative burden for government entities and for courts,” thereby easing financial and social burdens for all.

Misdemeanors/Low-level Crimes

The State of California is a decade into wide-reaching criminal justice reform, moving away from the mass incarceration which has failed to properly recognize the mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty associated with many low-level offenses, and which also has had a disparate impact on people of color. The City of Alameda’s policing and prosecuting activities should mirror this movement, addressing status-related offenses with services and treatment, rather than arrest and prosecution. A homeless person shoplifting small necessities should be directed to the support services like the Food Bank, rather than being arrested. A substance abuser found intoxicated on the streets should be directed to treatment providers, rather than being prosecuted.

Alameda, however, continues to arrest and prosecute for these low-level crimes associated with poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse. In 2019, the City Council voted to fund a position in the City Attorney’s Office to prosecute crimes. While the intent may have been to prosecute city code violations or more serious offenses the District Attorney chose not to prosecute, the prosecutor’s docket includes trespass (Pen. Code sec 602(m)), intoxication in public (section 647(f)), simple possession of narcotics (Health & Saf. Code sections 11350 & 11377), vandalism (Pen. Code sec. 594), rather than offense uniquely in the city's purview, e.g. violations of city ordinances regarding tenant harassment, consumer protection, etc.

Addressing offenses like trespass, intoxication in public, and simple possession through arrest and prosecution is antithetical to the contemporary societal recognition that services and treatment, not incarceration, is the solution, and is antithetical to the contemporary societal recognition that prosecution and punishment for such offense disproportionately impact people of color. 

In these respects, we support the recommendations of the Unbundling Subcommittee. We further recommend that the City forego any increased funding to, and freeze hiring within, the City Attorney’s prosecutorial unit until the work of the Police Reform committees is complete. 

Laws that Criminalize Youth

Minors who commit a crime are considered “delinquent.”  Minors who otherwise violate established rules and statutes (status offenses) are identified as “incorrigible minors.”  Status offenses include curfew violations, truancy, running away, being beyond control of parents or disobedient to lawful parent rules. Law enforcement agencies can counsel and release the juvenile, refer an arrested juvenile to a probation department, or turn the juvenile over to another agency.

In 2019, 4,057 status offenses were reported in California.  Truancy violations accounted for 3.6%; runaways accounted for 50.1%; curfew violations accounted for 17.6%; incorrigible violations accounted for 3.3% and other violations (including minor beyond parental control and failure to obey a juvenile court order) accounted for 25.4%. In Alameda, juvenile arrests pursuant to W&I 601 are considered Part Two crimes.  The number of juvenile arrests has been going down (2012: 61; 2013: 80; 2014: 62; 2016: 59; 2016: 52; 2017: 27; 2018: 29.)  How these arrests break down into behavior, curfew, and truancy is key to understanding how these laws interact with other behaviors including mental health and homelessness. 

There are several issues that this committee will be exploring: first and foremost, we wish to reprioritize funding that was previously dedicated towards SROs to enhance counseling and citywide/countywide support services for students and families. We also hope to continue to minimize the relationship between APD and school operations, particularly in cases relating to delinquency or punition, and to support the district’s measures to follow models of restorative justice to engage youth.

Mental Health

The premise put forward as part of our inquiry is that “individuals with mental illnesses” (IMI) are a significant component of our most vulnerable citizen population whose survival is disproportionately threatened by police practices that criminalize their survival. IMI status is often confounded with criminal behavior. Recent DOJ reports note that IMI: tend to be 40% of incarcerated individuals; over 90% had a history of multiple arrests; and, IMI are twice as likely to recidivate vs. non-IMI. Additionally, “the risk of being killed during a police incident” is 16 times greater for people with untreated mental illness. 

The following questions emerge:

  • What is the % of IMI encounters with APD and how and when is that initial determination of mental health made?
  • Does the APD use evidence-based tools like the Brief Jail Mental Health Screen to efficiently identify IMI at the point of first encounter?

    Historically, communities have relied on the criminal justice system and law enforcement to provide mental health care and as a result, every year over 2 million people with mental illness are booked into America’s jails and prisons (NAMI, 2019). A non-exhaustive list of aspects in this issue would include the possible absence of an effective mental health system and/or, the existence of a punitive oriented judicial system, and/or less effective practices by law enforcement.

  • How does APD fit in the ecosystem of mental health? Moreover, how do APD and the City of Alameda coordinate with county-level social, mental, and health care services?
  • What budgetary implications flow from a more engaged presence of mental health professionals at the initial encounter of IMI with APD?

In 2015, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 11 which mandates POST to create, maintain, and make available a three-hour mental health course.

  • How is this implemented for APD? Is this the extent of mental health training provided?
  • What practices and procedures are in place to help identify those suffering from mental illnesses?

    Officers are required to respond to “5150” calls. 

  • How often does this happen in Alameda; what is the APD involvement after the 5150 call is made?
  • Are these statistics made public?

    Our neighbors in Oakland in June, 2020, voted to fund a $1.35 million pilot program that will send emergency medical technicians and trained counselors to respond to non-violent calls.  San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced in June 2020 that trained, unarmed professionals will soon replace police officers in responding to noncriminal crises involving people who are homeless or have mental illness, among others.

  • How can Alameda learn from Oakland and SF experiences in piloting these programs?

    Given the availability of evidence-based practices highly recommended by DOJ, the questions for APD include:

  • What such practices have been incorporated into APD policies that tend to minimize how we “criminalize” the behavior of IMI, a significant segment of our more vulnerable individuals?
  • Can we estimate the extent to which incorporation of evidence-based practices relative to IMI might enhance APD effectiveness with this population subgroup?  

Sub-Committee Recommendation Summary

The following recommendations are preliminary frameworks that we hope to expand upon in detail and scope with APD and city leadership.

1. Create a Citizens’ Police Oversight Committee tasked with holding APD officers accountable with current and future documentation.

  • The Task Force should work to ensure that qualitative data on police-civilian interactions is documented and released for public oversight.
  • The City should also conduct further analysis of fines and fee revenue to determine their extent and effects on poor people of color. The City should also consider how these fines and fees can escalate to criminal offenses, further harming affected BIPOC residents. 

2. Expand the city of Alameda’s OpenGov online reporting of crimes to include additional categories outside categories required by the FBI’s UCR (Universal Crime Reporting) and NIBRS (National Incident Based Reporting System).

  • The department should release data that codes and specifies youth interactions without compromising the confidentiality of minors.
  • The “all other” category for reported Part II crimes should be specified.
  • Daily reports should be archived alongside yearly numerical reports. Citizens should be able to delineate data that spans periods of days, weeks, and months.
  • The department should track and publicize data on police stops and use of officer force.

3. Continue the current campaign to partner with Compstat for Justice, the Center for Policing Equity, and other outside nonprofits for additional recommendations and reports on clarity, transparency, and equity.

  • Collaborate with Oversight Committee, civilian committees, policy organizations, the APD IT department and other advocacy organizations in this engagement.
  • The department should be transparent about their process of communication with the Center for Policing Equity and seek to release all reports and analysis conducted by the Center.

4. Rehire a full-time “Crime Analyst” position and expand the statistical/data arms of the police department.

  • Report requests for public information in a timely fashion (14 business days).
  • Continue to improve data collection and transparency without compromising resident integrity, privacy, and increasing the department’s reach in the usage of unnecessary criminological surveillance.

5. Conduct a “Did You Know” social media campaign using Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to direct folks away from emergency police reporting.

  • Campaign will mobilize a “What To Do If …” strategy to connect engaged viewers with city and county services for issues on unhoused populations, animal control, and other non-emergency referrals
  • Extend operations of “Block by Block” Campaign past January 2021.

Please take the community survey here to share your feedback on the subcommittee recommendations. A report of the preliminary recommendations from all five Subcommittees can be downloaded here(PDF, 765KB). 

Sources:,,, CA Welfare & Institutions Code Section 601, Juvenile Justice in CA 2019 report, APD Crime Report,final report to DOJ for award #2015-MO-BX-0222 (McCline, Meehan & Brown, 2017), 2015 study, “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters,” by the Treatment Advocacy Center, A reference to the state Welfare and Institutions Code that sets criteria for detaining someone for 72 hours who is deemed “a danger to self or others.”,