The annual conference of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement  (NACOLE) started today in Spokane and I am fortunate enough to be here for it.  The following are some initial (random?) thoughts on what I saw/heard/experienced.

  1. This is the second time this year that I have attended, for the first time, a conference of a national association (the other was NAFSA–an organization focused on international education).  I am struck by the passion of long-term practitioners in each.  These are people who have, for the most part, spent long periods of their careers, focusing on how to make police more accountable to the communities in which they live and serve.  And, like other professional associations they are wrestling with how to create the highest standards of practice for their members.  There is something inspiring to me about the long-term commitments I see here.
  2. This association is interesting in that it includes a full array of local actors: government employees, citizen volunteers, police officers, elected officials (more on this below), attorneys, community-based organizations, consultants, academicians.
  3. Add to the foregoing diversity the representation from large and small cities and great racial diversity and this is, by far, the most diverse association meeting I have ever been to.  It is rivaled in my experience only by the American Public Health Association (which is much larger).
  4. I am one of three (that I counted) elected officials here out of about 450 attendees.  I assumed, given how prominent the issue of police behavior is in the news, that MANY more electeds would be here.  I would say that police oversight is one of the top five issues cities face in these days (housing/homelessness, escalating service costs, aging infrastructure, addiction, and environmental sustainability are some others).  I am surprised there are not more policy makers here.
  5. Police oversight is one of those issues where the solutions will ONLY be found via a broad coalition of actors.  We need to invite all these actors around the table and marvel at the unique contribution that each can and must make.  We must also recognize what each actor is not well positioned to bring to the table.  The key to success for Davis or any oversight process will be developing deep personal relationships among these actors.  This is the only way we will be able to build the kind of trust necessary to see us through times of crisis.
  6. Models of police oversight include focuses on investigation, civilian complaint boards, policy and practice review, and independent investigation review.  More and more cities are developing hybrid models that combine various of these domains.  Our public process in Davis is about defining what our model will be.
  7. A not insignificant number of people working in this field are former police officers.
  8. There is a big difference between helping police do their job better (the vision of some in this field) and creating transparency to build greater police accountability.  The latter is where the industry appears to be going–with a focus on police legitimacy.
  9. Big cities dominate this field with LARGE staffs dealing with complaints, investigations, hearings and policy development. A smaller town like Davis represents where oversight is moving.  I attribute this to the fact that policing is experiencing a national crisis and communities are trying to figure out how to take a preventive approach rather than waiting for a crisis to hit.
  10. Glad I am here.  I know I will return to Davis with my thinking enlarged and a more informed commitment to improving police oversight in Davis.

I recommend these as Sunday-only rides—except, perhaps, number 3.  Email me at for “Ride-with-GPS” maps of any of these.


1. Davis to Martinez via Vallejo by Bike—Return by Train

This is one of my favorites and I think it is because it offers such variety.  From the valley floor, to the edges of the Vaca Hills, to a frontage road along I-80 that peaks out with great views of the Bay and Mt Tam, to urban riding and a major bridge crossing, to a thin car-free route along the edge of the Bay, this ride never gets tedious.  There is some climbing here along I-80 but it is a quiet ride on a barely traveled road that ends with a screaming downhill into Vallejo on a mixed-use path with no cars.

Crossing the Carquinez Bridge is a treat, as are the rolling hills between Crocket and Martinez—including a newly paved mixed-use road with no cars.  I do this one 2-3 times per year and it is about 68 miles.  I pull out my phone and listen to Au4 on the way home.

2. Davis to San Francisco by Train/Bus—Bike to Santa Cruz—Return by Bus/Train

I have done this ride three times and each time I wonder why it took me so long to do it again.  You need an early start to fit this in but it takes you through the city and long stretches with the Pacific at your right. With the new tunnel on Route 1 coming out of Pacifica, there is now only one tight stretch—the climb out of Pacifica itself—where there are no shoulders and traffic flow can be heavy.  Beyond that the shoulders are wide and the climbs gentle.

What I like most about this ride are the parts where farmed fields stretch to the west and descend right up to the Pacific.  I also like the cliffs about 20 miles north of Santa Cruz.  They seem fragile and about to collapse.  You get to pass a cool pump track on the edge of Santa Cruz.  The ride south of Outer Sunset to the SF Zoo is serene and often shrouded in fog.

I get a burrito in Santa Cruz or San Jose and the bus ride home is for beer and contemplation. This one is about 85 miles and you have to start with an early train.

3. Davis to San Francisco by Train/Bus—Bike Loop via Marin Headlands, Lower Parts of Mt Tam, and Sausilito—Return by Bus/Train

This one cannot be done with a road bike because stretches are on mountain-bike track (not technical) and fire roads on the Headlands and then up to the lower reaches of Mt Tam.  I use my gravel grinder and simply do not have enough gears to climb up the hills out of Tennessee Beach over towards Muir Beach.  There are some steep descents and I have crashed every time I have ridden here.  Still, they are of the slow-motion variety and not too serious.

There is a stretch from after leaving Route 1 just after Muir Beach that is a tougher trail.  It climbs, is narrow and lots of mountain bikers seem to be screaming down the towards the sea from Tam.  Still, once you get through that you get a long ride down into Mill Valley and Sausalito.  If you are tired, take the ferry from there back to the city or ride to re-cross the Golden Gate bridge.

I always stop for coffee in Sausalito and enjoy the descent from the top of the Marin Headlands towards the Visitor Center—it seems that no one uses that trail.  This one is about 45 miles but it is a tough ride.  I like to bring Stephen King with me on this ride and read him from Emeryville home.


4. Davis to Suisun/Fairfield by Train—Bike Loop via Vallejo and Martinez—Return by Train

This is a 60-mile loop that borrows from ride number 1 above but could be called the “two bay bridges ride,” because you cross both the Carquinez and Martinez bridges.  My least favorite part of this ride is from Martinez back to Fairfield—the frontage road along 580 is not marvelous.  But if you get the kind of winds that are common in that area, they will push you all the way.

I always stop in Martinez for Sunday farmers’ market and grab something but I always seem to eat lunch on the west side of the Carquinez Bridge.  The short train rides from Davis to Suisun are not long enough for anything except looking at the scenery—and I love how that changes with the seasons.  Ride this one in winter, spring, and fall.  The industrial area outside of Martinez is fascinating.


5. Davis to Berkeley by Train—Bike to Suisun/Fairfield—Return by Train

I’ve only done this one once and it is definitely a spring/fall ride.  The ride from the top of the Berkeley Hills over to Martinez is all exposed and it can get pretty hot.  It is actually fun to ride through Berkeley from the train station, slowly up the hill to Tilden Park.  The rest of the way is nothing but long climbs and long descents.  There are 3 of them after Berkeley if I am counting correctly.  Lots of bikers on these roads (I have ridden them as part of other rides) and mostly wide shoulders and light traffic.




I should note that I do not ride these like most recreational riders.  I use my gravel grinder which is heavy with wide tires.  I am not in it for speed and I like to haul food and repair stuff in a pannier which I mount on my “pizza carrier” front rack.  It is unorthodox but there are no rules.  I would do any of these—except perhaps the S

anta Cruz ride—with the same bike.

The Capitol Corridor buses and trains do not require you to box your bike on any of these routes and you walk on, walk off at both ends.  I don’t tend to “stop and smell the roses” much on my rides but, as you can imagine, the photo-ops and scenery are the main reason to do these rides.  Everything is just so beautiful out here and the diversity of land- and cityscapes means that each ride opens up new things to see and think about.

I ride these mostly alone so I don’t hold anyone up or leave anyone behind.  I like to travel at my own pace—at the speed of my bike. With these caveats in mind, if you would like to try one of these rides with me, email at the above address.



20/20 (20 minutes of writing for 20 days): 3. “I-21”

Posted: 8 September 2017 in Uncategorized

She snuck in right at 5:00 pm with that look that says, “I did not do what I was supposed to do and now I am frantic and need you to help me… PLEASE!”  We close to students at 4:00 but some just walk in any way–despite the signs–and make their way to my office since it is the first in line.  “I am leaving to go home tomorrow night, and I need a travel signature–mine expired,” she said. No surprise there.  Happens more than it should.

I told her to fill out a request online, and that I would get to it first thing in the morning. 

“But I have my I-21 with me Mr. Davis–can’t you just sign that?  Please?”

“Your I-20, you mean.”  She looks a bit confused (not surprising, what with all these forms–I-765, I-539–sometimes I get it wrong too).

But, wait, I should probably back up.  I advise international students at UC Davis.  That means a lot of things but, fundamentally, it means I provide them with the documents they need to get student visas to enter the US and study.  Now the vast majority of our students are on “F-1” visas.  That basically means they are not intending to immigrate, and they are allowed to stay in the US as long as they are enrolled full time in study.  In order for them to get their visa, a school, in this case UC Davis, issues them an “I-20” form that has their biographical information, their course of study, and a signature of a school official attesting to the fact that they are a student.  I am one of those school officials.

The I-20 form plays a lot of other roles as the student progresses through their career: it might include work authorization, permission to attend part time and, most importantly for our purposes, a signature that basically says “this student is leaving the country but we attest that they are still a student here so let them back in–please.” That is the “travel signature” in question, and yes, it literally means that I sign the form twice–once on the front when I issue it, and once on the back for travel.  Travel signatures are good for a year, and hers had expired.

Looking at her then, and realizing I needed to get to my other job by 5:30, I almost shooed her out and stuck to my guns on making her fill in the online request.  But… if she had her form, I could just sign it there and be done with it.  So, I relented.

“Okay, give me your student ID so I can check your record and make sure everything is okay,” I said.

She read it out while I typed it into the database (SUNAPSIS if you need to know), but she only read 8 digits and our ID’s all have 9.  I asked her to repeat it and it still came up 8.  I remarked on this and she said: “Well it always worked before.”  Now, at this point, we were getting back to me wanting to tell her to leave and fill out the request online… But…

“Okay, give me your ID and let me see.”

She handed it to me and, strangely, it had only 8 digits!

“So this thing has a typo,” I said, “you say this worked before?  Are you sure?

“Yes. Never any problems.” she said.

“Okay, well it won’t work for me.  Let’s use your name.”

I read it off the card and typed it in.  Nothing.  SUNAPSIS said basically “no such student exists.”

“Well, you are not in there and I don’t get it.”  I tried reordering her name (sometimes first and last names get switched) but… nothing.  “Okay, you know what, I bet you are not a student at UC Davis.  You are at Extension, right?”  (Extension, though part of the University issues their own I-20s and their students are not in our database.)

“Oh, no, I am a student here.  I am doing my Ph.D. focusing on the effects of salt water on peanut production–really important for my country…”

She would have gone on but I stopped her.  Okay, if she is a Ph.D. student, definitely not at Extension.  Next question…

“Okay, so can you show me your I-20?  I mean, who issued it?  Who signed it?”

“My I-21?” (that again)  “You did. You are Mr. Davis, right?  I mean, you have shaved your head and all but I still recognize you from the last time.  Here.  See?”

She handed me her I-20 and my eye went right to the “School Official” line and I read “Robert Davis.”  By now I am really confused.  Her I-20 in my hand, my name on it, but no record of her in the database.  And now I am running late and need to go.  I mean, I want to help but I have to check the record to make sure nothing is going on, and there CLEARLY IS something going on (and what was she getting at about my hair–I haven’t had any since long before I started working here!).

I said “Okay, look.  I have to go now.  You are leaving tomorrow night so I will have time to figure out what happened to your record in the database.  I will get it all taken care of, sign the I-20 and you can come back in–I should have it done by noon.  Will that work?”

By that time she was as flustered as I was but she also saw that I was confused, a bit tired, and that I really needed to get out of there.

“Okay,” she said.  “I will call you first thing tomorrow.”

I was glad there was no “fight” (sometimes there is–and that is never fun).

“Look, it would be helpful if you have a photocopy of the face page of your passport and one of your visa page to go along with your I-20.  That way I have more to go on.”  I said.

“Sure,” she said as she shuffled through some papers.  “Here.”  She handed me a few and I took them and her I-20 and laid them on my desk. We walked out together and she seemed calm enough.  She said it was good to see me again (for the life of me I could not remember her, which is odd because I usually DO remember everyone’s face–I just can’t always remember what they came to talk about the previous time they saw me.)  We said our goodbyes in front of the international center.

And that was the last time I ever saw her…

The next morning I showed up at work with her conundrum very much on my mind.  These kinds of things happen more than you would think and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation in 99% of the cases once you dig into the history, the records, and the wisdom of colleagues who have been around the block on these things.

Entering my office I picked up the docs and… well… that’s when things got strange.  She HAD given me her “I-21”–it said so, right there in the upper right-hand corner where the “I-20” is supposed to go.  I immediately hit the DOS and NAFSA sites to find about this form (which looked EXACTLY like the I-20) and found… nothing.  “What the hell?”

I looked down at the school official line and Robert Davis was there, but this time I looked more closely at the signature (are their two Robert Davises doing this?).  My signature looked like mine, which is a scribbled but discernable “Robert” followed by an unreadable “Davis.”  Except that this one wasn’t Robert, it was clearly “Robbie.”  “What the hell?”  I haven’t used that since I was 16!

I looked more closely at the “I-21”  at the location of the issuing school “University of California, Davis”–except it wasn’t.  It read “University of Northern California, Davis”. By now I was getting a little shaky.  What was I seeing here?  I decided to check her passport, if for no other reason than to find a bit of sanity in what was starting to feel like a tilting room.

Her name was an unremarkable Anglo Saxon but the issuing nation…

Oh the nation…

“Confederation of Southern Georgia and Jacksonville” with a seal I had never seen.

And the visa…

Oh the visa…

Issued by the “People’s Republic of Northern California.”

This all happened 5 weeks ago.  She never called that day.  Never came in.  I still have her papers on my desk–hidden under a pile.  I pull them out from time to time to see if they might have changed (they have not) and as I page through them I wonder at what the “Confederation” from which she comes is like, how it must be to live in the “Republic,” and what that guy Robbie Davis looks like with hair.

20/20 (20 minutes of writing for 20 days): 2. On Institutions

Posted: 7 September 2017 in Uncategorized

When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave owner, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual. So slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny are inherently monstrous. The individuals participating in them may be the nicest guys you can image. Benevolent, friendly, nice to the children, even nice to their slaves. Caring about other people. I mean, as individuals they may be anything, but in their insitutional role, they’re monsters, because the institution is monstrous.

Noam Chomsky in the film The Corporation

The first enormous truth flowing from our civilization is that, today, everything has become “means.” There are no longer “ends.” We no longer know towards what we are headed.  We have lost our collective goals.  We dispose of enormous means, and we put into action prodigious machines to reach nowhere…

Jacques Ellul in Présence au monde moderne

 Technique will not tolerate (or accept) any judgment passed on it.  In other words, technicians do not easily tolerate people expressing an ethical or moral judgment on what they do.

Jacques Ellul in The Betrayal of Technology (video)

In their respective, and typical styles, Ellul and Chomsky seem to overstate the point to drive home the point: “monstrous,” “prodigious”, “will not tolerate.”  In my experience in dozens of institutions, I see what Chomsky is saying and see how Ellul explains how it comes to be.

It may be a truism to say that an institution (pick one: university, city government, business, non-profit organization, etc.) is greater than the sum of the people who make it up but what that implies and why it happens is important.  We all participate in institutions, either employed by them, contributing to them or supporting them in some way.  And so, Chomsky’s words are important to consider.  Yes, he was talking about corporations. Here, I am saying it applies to all institutions.

Am I suggesting they are evil, or useless, or inherently violent–after all, monstrous implies no good.  I am not suggesting that, nor is Chomsky, I believe, saying they do not have a role in society.  Indeed, as the film argues, corporations do (or at least are designed initially) to serve the common good.  And yet…

And yet they fail.  Ellul provides some insights why that is.  First, all institutions are founded to accomplish an end, and except for a few strictly nefarious ones (drug gangs I suppose), the ones that most of us participate in have ends–often articulated in a mission statement–that are both laudable and lofty.  But what Ellul suggests, and I have seen, is that institutions quite frequently forget the ends to which they say they are striving; trading the lofty missions for not only something far more pedestrian but also something far more sinister.

Not only are they enamored with means rather than ends–the newest branding strategy, the coolest website, the hippest cause, the slickest ideas–but they trade the ultimate ends for these means, essentially making the means the new, de facto ends.  This may seem innocuous but can lead them down paths that have little to do with why they came into being.

Let me use an example that has repeated itself many times in my personal experience.  A wonderful non-profit with a great mission to rid the world of hunger, bring practical peacebuilding, or reduce child mortality.  At a certain point in its existence says “we could do more, we should do more, we must do more–we must grow, we must enlarge, we must carry our salvific efforts to the world (not just the puny piece we are now touching).”  Yes, this really happens.  Oh perhaps nobody actually says it just that way but “relevance” demands growth, the good we do requires scale.  And at that point, the ends have already started to shift.  At that point, the means start to be the focus and the ends slide away.

But I would take it a step further because at that moment there is also a new way of thinking about the “necessity–the “indispensability”–of the organization.  We are now the requisite organization and our survival, our eternality, becomes the most critical end to which we strive. And when that happens, when institutions aspire to godlike eternality, then truly monstrous things can and do happen.  Because when that happens institutions spend a whole lot of time trying to build allegiance to themselves.  And a whole lot of lies get told.

There is an understanding of “the fall” in Hebrew scriptures which says that the whole Eden myth is a story of humankind’s quest for autonomy.  Following quickly on the heels of that quest is the striving after eternal life as in “I want to be free from all constraints and I want and must live forever…”  A cautionary tale from our ancestors.  And a caution for our collective selves as well.

But Ellul goes even further suggesting that our own enamorment with “technique” and its focus on the one best way is also a culprit in the monstrousness our institutions become.  Today, the technical sophistication of even the least sophisticated organizations is something to behold.  Laden with technicians who refuse critique–and, who are, according to Ellul the high priests of “means”–we find ourselves in organizations incapable of accepting critique and incapable of seeing the dark paths down which they have wandered away from their true ends.

Am I overstating the case a la Chomsky and Ellul?  I don’t think so.  In fact, I don’t think so SO MUCH that I spend most of my days (it seems) trying to figure out how to reorient the institutions of which I am a part back to the true ends of their existence.  It is what I believe to be an essential ingredient of that elusive thing called leadership: leaders as guides to help institutions they lead find their way back to the path leading to the ends to which they all say they aspire.

I am not a hillbilly, but this may be a kind of elegy.  I am not a hillbilly but am really only removed from them by a thin generation and about 350 miles.

When I look at the things that are happening: the hot white anger; the grievances worn on a sleeve; the altered logic of climate change denial twinned with six-day-creation-6000-year-old-earth “science”; the looming apocalypses brought to us by a malign government (democrat); the chest puffing “America only” bumper sticker politics…

When I look at these things I see that I am not so far from home–not my home, but the homes of my mom and dad. A certain kind of fundamentalist Christianity seized them sometime after they left the “hills” (cove, creek, holler) and saved dad from alcohol.  Mom saw all she needed.  If God could do that!  Well then, God and Jesus was where she needed to give her heart.  And she did.  And they did.

Dad, wearing “the pants” and being the Old Testament God of war, discipline, and rules.  Mom, meekly being Jesus on the cross and loving, loving, loving.  Mom was pro life before it was really fashionable (she had, no doubt seen abortions in ways that many had not, will not), but she loved every single mom who came by with her child and she sacrificed for them.  Hours around the kitchen table taking in all comers and listening, listening, listening.  “Can I pray with you?”  and she would.  And they (most of the local detritus and some from much further away) found their way to her table.  I saw them.

Dad, went with Wallace in ’68 and would have gone for Trump last year.  And though Trump makes Wallace look like a decent man, the factors that led dad down that path are the same these nearly 50 years later: anger at a world that no longer looked like anything he thought he knew.  An America abandoned to “them.”  Dad went to John Birch meetings in the basement where we would later live.  The only time he EVER went to a political rally was to see Wallace in Hershey, PA.  Dad falling in love with Jerry Falwell and his brand of gnosticism–learning to bus children to the church where they were ritually counted to show the world that hundreds were coming to Jesus: this is what I saw.

They had a rudimentary grasp of the dispensationalist wall charts that adorned so many church basements.  Mom sang in lots of them before that illness took her voice away forever.  They believed in a straightforward gospel of ultimate reward and ultimate damnation.  No gray areas there.  And though they would have denied it, they lived in fear of a crude kind of dualism in which Satan was so close to winning that it was up to folk like them to hold him at bay–and God had designed it all that way.

They had me ask Jesus into my heart early on–once is enough they said.  I knew better and repeated the sinner’s prayer thousands of times–fearing that somehow I would trip up and the God of dad would leer at me and say “Aha, you were too late with your repentance THIS time Robbie.”  I was scared pretty much all the time, what with the God of dad, the Russians (commies) and those “inner-city blacks” who were out to take what was never meant to be theirs.

So, I live today and I see all of this as a homecoming, somewhere between the hills/cove/holler where they were raised and the piedmont where I fell in love with baseball (and Bob Gibson).  I don’t ask Jesus into my heart anymore, and find that I can’t really believe much of anything that mom and dad taught me.  But the God of my dad and the Jesus of my mom help me understand much of what I see here, now.  I live in their houses–their hills, their cove, their holler. We all do.