PB Town Council’s ‘Year of the Police’ goes on; critics say event theme should focus on community instead
The Pacific Beach Town Council will keep its ‘2020 Year of the Police’ theme for its annual Police and Emergency Services Appreciation Night.
For nearly 40 years, the nonprofit Pacific Beach Town Council has honored the area’s first responders with an annual picnic and awards ceremony.
On Police and Emergency Services Appreciation Night, or PAESAN, community members and elected officials thank police officers, firefighters, lifeguards and park rangers with gifts. The group selects a department every year — rotating among the four emergency services — and raises money to purchase items needed but not funded for the selected department’s budget.
Though slated for September, the in-person event likely will be canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and the celebration held online instead, Town Council members said.
The 2020 dedication has drawn controversy. The honors are slated to go to the San Diego police officers of the Northern Division, which serves Pacific Beach and 10 surrounding neighborhoods.
A few in the community recently asked the Town Council to reconsider this year’s PAESAN theme — “Year of the Police” — in light of protests against police brutality.
“I think it would say that they are willing and able to hear both sides of the debate,” said Pacific Beach resident and former Town Council board member Regina Sinsky-Crosby.
Brian White, president of the Pacific Beach Town Council, said the group will not alter its theme.
White said in an email that the council believes building positive relationships with police is essential to the safety of the community, which ranks No. 2 in San Diego for violent crimes.
San Diego police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said SDPD’s Northern Division is honored by the council’s decision to name 2020 the Year of the Police.
In 2019, the Town Council honored park rangers and bought windshields, doors, spotlights and more. In 2018, it honored Fire Station 21 and purchased commercial-grade washers, dryers and exhaust fans. Local lifeguards were honored in 2017.
This year, for the police, the Town Council bought a new refrigerator, office chairs, communication speakers for beach ATV helmets, cargo bags and a piece of workout equipment.
Sinsky-Crosby said the PAESAN tradition is a great way to honor unsung public servants, but, given the current climate, it feels counterproductive to have a year dedicated to the police.
Protesters have taken to the streets around San Diego County and nationwide in the past few months following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in May after a White Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest. Floyd’s death sparked calls to reform and defund police departments and end police brutality.
"[Year of the Police] wasn’t done in response to these events, but when there is an outcry to defund the police and the police get a $566 million budget, it’s time to consider pivoting the focus of PAESAN,” Sinsky-Crosby said.
She resigned from the Town Council board in early June, she said, because she felt the council was not doing enough to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Then on June 26, she and Paige Hernandez, another Pacific Beach resident, sent a letter to the Town Council asking it to change the theme from “Year of the Police” to “Year of the People.”
The letter also asked the council and other community groups to support ongoing efforts to rename a community park after Black educators William and Fannie Payne and make other changes to increase representation of minorities in local groups and events.
The Town Council in July wrote a letter to the San Diego City Council supporting renaming the park after the teachers.
White said most of the money the Town Council spent on items for the police was left over from last year’s PAESAN event.
Some community members also raised $2,170 for the Town Council by selling T-shirts through online printer platform Custom Ink.
That also drew controversy.
People bought more than 100 T-shirts with the words “Pacific Beach Backs SDPD” over a black-and-white American flag with a blue stripe printed on the front.
Some people view the thin blue line flag as a symbol of support toward law enforcement officers, while others feel it symbolizes a division between police and community.
The shirts sold for $25 each for two weeks in November, according to the Custom Ink website.
White said the Town Council did not vote on the T-shirts but supported the community effort. Once the council was made aware of the symbol’s controversial connotations in June, the group removed images of the shirt from its website.
White said the Town Council will hold onto the money raised through T-shirt sales until board members find a way to use it.