Q&A: Phlunté Riddle. Perspective is Everything

8 mins read
Phlunte' Riddle wearing a blue shirt and smiling at the camera
Phlunté Riddle. Photo: Campaign
This entry is part 11 of 22 in the series 2024 Primary Election Candidates

Phlunté Riddle, Psy.D, is a candidate to represent the 41st Assembly District in Sacramento. Riddle is a retired Pasadena police officer and now a commissioner appointed to the Board of Juvenile Discharge Hearings.

Q – Based on your trauma and psychology experience, you have another dimension of experience that you bring to the table.

A – I think what separates me from the other candidates is a lot of life experience. My background in psychology really helps me to see a broader picture of human behavior. I was not a HOPE officer, but as a Lieutenant, I was over the whole team. I love this new PORT Team.

I think that was a smart move on the part of the city and the police department. The HOPE team was revolutionary at the time, but we have so much more access to services now. Now, people are all in, whereas before, we were just trying to manage. Now we have all these entities saying, “Okay, we’re 100 percent in and here are the bodies to help you.”

Q – Where’s the budget for all this?

A – Each department has the ability to move monies to wherever needed. When I was with the police department ten years ago, there were budgets for officers, mental health specialists, and overtime. The PORT Team uses various resources within the city and partnerships.

Moving money around means everyone’s contributing to the bigger picture.

At this time, 60 percent of law enforcement calls for service are for homeless or mental health crises. Those various departments have mental health specialists with the ability to understand and identify substance abuse, can give referrals for housing, referrals to the health department, etc. Those are all city resources, and everyone’s working collaboratively.

We can move things forward. We can’t wait anymore. We’ve waited long enough.

Phlunté Riddle

As long as we’re doing that, we’re going to make great strides in reducing the number of homeless citizens in Pasadena. Some cities may do it a little differently.

I applaud Mayor Karen Bass for immediately saying, “Let’s get rid of some of this red tape by making homelessness an emergency.” We can move things forward. We can’t wait anymore. We’ve waited long enough.

Q – Can you discuss the safety issue for people experiencing homelessness and your constituency?

A – Well, I live it. You live it. We all live it. In the 1980s, when I came into the police department, there was a Psychiatric Evaluation Team that would come out if a person could not care for themselves or others. When that went away, they thought communities, churches, nonprofits, or your families would pick up the slack. It just became overwhelming.

Now, we have to come together on a state and local level to help our communities and to ensure everyone’s safety. I come from a profession where you must make sure that the residents are safe. But we also have to be humane and recognize that the unhoused are also at risk. They are often preyed upon.

The number one fastest-growing homeless population, next to families, is senior women. That’s staggering to me. We’re talking about senior women who are mothers and grandmothers, and yet they are now homeless at an alarming rate, some of whom are living in their cars and on the street. That’s unacceptable.

Let Doctor Riddle talk for a moment, okay? People are feeling afraid and having secondhand trauma. Things are not out of control. But even if that is the perception, it becomes your reality.

I know people who don’t watch the news anymore. They can’t take it because it has too much impact. Acid starts pumping, and you start to feel agitated and anxious; you have a headache, and you don’t really want to go outside. That can be the result of overexposure.

“I want to take the stigma off of it. There should not be a stigma. It’s okay to say, ‘I need help.'”

Phlunté Riddle

Then, let’s talk about officers and juveniles for a minute. Former LAPD officer Joseph Wambaugh wrote a book called “The Onion Field,” describing police work as a drop of corrosion on the human soul daily. In that one statement, he summed up what happens when you’re overexposed to trauma, blood, homicides, spousal abuse, victimized children, etc. It impacts your soul.

As in any profession, but in particular public safety, if you are not able to recognize and analyze that you are being impacted by your profession, then when you are interacting with your family and others, who have nothing to do with your last police call, you can become the problem.  That is where emotional intelligence is critical. 

Officers across this nation experience PTSD. Unfortunately, they experience broken families, alcoholism, and self-medication due to injuries, and yet often won’t seek help from mental health professionals.  Again, you have to know yourself, be self-aware and seek out mental health services.

I want to take the stigma away from seeking mental health assistance. There should not be a stigma. It’s okay to say, “I need help.”

We all needed some help after COVID. We all experienced drastic changes in our lives that we had no control over. The isolation and the loss of loved ones continue to be traumatic as we try to heal.

As a commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, I interacted with juveniles and all their early life exposures to feelings of abandonment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, food insecurities, home insecurity, gangs and bullying. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Then they get to their commitment offense, and in the State of California, that means that it was an egregious crime where someone was injured. Then you read the victims’ trauma impact statement. That’s a lot to carry. You have to learn how to manage and step back from that, or you end up having secondary trauma.

Q – How do you reduce the risk of youth re-offending?

A – One of the key elements of that is to help them stabilize and reduce their aggression and violence.

When you’re interacting with youth offenders, they don’t recognize they have biases or implicit bias. With youth, the brain is still forming, so you have a real opportunity to make a significant change in their behavior.

“You continue to encourage them and get them to a place where they can say, ‘I don’t want that other life anymore.'”

Phlunté Riddle

Having a lack of self-discipline, emotional regulation, or impulsive behavior can lead to significant problems in a youth’s life.  It’s all evidence-based treatment and interventions. And it works.   But these youths must have other things such as food, housing, education, and jobs.

It’s a whole pie. You have to recognize that there will be relapses, yet you continue to encourage them and get them to a place where they can say, “I don’t want that other life anymore.”

Q – Can you talk about discrimination?

A – We all deal with some biases from other people because we all have preconceived notions or beliefs. I’ll go back to the whole emotional intelligence piece of it. You have to know yourself. You have to know who you are.

A lot of people don’t look in the mirror. We have to look in the mirror and see ourselves. We all have some biases. I know what it is firsthand to be discriminated against.

I came up in Altadena and attended Loma Alta, Elliot to John Muir. I did not feel that there was racism there. At that time, there were Black, white, Latino, and Japanese students. It was a different time when people used public school systems.

When I came into the police department and found out I was an affirmative action hire, I was told I was taking a man’s job. I was there, and someone would not be able to feed their family because they had to hire me to meet a quota.

Even though I went through the testing and the police academy and all the rest, they were not really prepared for women, and they weren’t prepared for African-Americans. There had been African-Americans there, but let me share with you it was tough.

“When I came into the police department and found out I was an affirmative action hire, I was told I was taking a man’s job. I was there, and someone would not be able to feed their family because they had to hire me to meet a quota.”

Phlunté Riddle

So, I know what it is to be made to feel like you don’t measure up when you’re promoted or you receive a special assignment, which you had earned, that you are being “given” only because of your race or your sex, not because of your qualifications. Consequently, you just become an expert in everything, educate yourself and make sure that you are where you’re supposed to be.

So even if they tell you no, you know it’s not because you’re not qualified, it is because they chose.

Q – People want complete stories and trusted facts, and the local news scene is diminishing. What is the importance of local news, and can people be engaged?

A – I was a Public Information Officer for many years. I don’t like sound bites. I don’t like misinformation. I don’t like it when I hear incomplete stories.

I came up with the Pasadena Star-News. It provided what was going on in the community where I grew up. The Claremont Courier does that now for Claremont. They talk about local news. Now, you can barely find anything in the printed media. There is now online news only.

And it’s concerning that print media is going out of business. Now, the LA Times looks like one of these little papers that you could get out of the news rack there on Colorado Boulevard. It’s disheartening because we’re not getting complete stories anymore.

We’re getting what I call sound bites, and someone’s opinion is not investigative reporting. I’d like to see more investigation. I come from a profession where you scan, assess, evaluate, and may have to re-scan and reassess before you act, and only then do you have some knowledge and some ability to move forward.

This rush to be the first is to make mistakes. Then, to find the corrections, you have to go back and read page five.

Q – What do you want the electorate to know about your campaign?

A – Working as the District Director for Chris Holden really gave me a front-row seat and firsthand knowledge of what it is to be an elected official. To legislate, you have to work collaboratively with individuals who come from other districts and may not have the same priorities, but you have to find those areas you have in common.

You’re going to be in Sacramento, but it’s about local issues, taking information that your team and the district office bring and making sure that you’re on top of what your constituents need. So, for us right now, it’s all about addressing homelessness and housing.

But not just as a mandate but to ensure that people are getting the services they need so that they can make that transition in their lives.

“I will legislate from my perspective and life experiences.”

Phlunté Riddle

Children can no longer afford to live in the communities where they were born and raised. We have to have low-income housing through to market-rate housing.

We’re also going to continue to push the goal of having a transportation system that moves round trip from Ontario Airport to Burbank, which may also help with our climate emergency.

These are key areas. However, my first priority is education with early childhood intervention and prevention. That starts with preschool for those that can attend and Regional Center for Mental Health Services because we need to ensure our kids are safe and that they have the resources and education they need so that they can be functioning adults and not end up in the system.

I will legislate from my perspective and life experiences. I’m also looking forward to working with other legislators and having conversations about the issues we’ve discussed here and how to ensure that we look at unintended consequences before making decisions and not use a broad brush because sometimes that can create a different kind of problem.

Series Navigation<< Q&A: Jed Leano. Social Change, at ScaleQ&A: Brandon Lamar. Build-in Diversity Through City Processes >>
The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/hq5r

Sheryl Turner

Sheryl is Local News Pasadena's Publisher and Pasadena Media Foundation's Founder. When not saving local news, she devotes her spare time to finding the best meatloaf in town.
Email: [email protected]

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