Antioch creates a civil police monitoring commission

ANTIOCH – Antioch is creating a police oversight commission which will be made up of residents, but it will be advisory only.

Mayor Lamar Thorpe warned that since Antioch is a general law city, its police oversight board will not have the same kind of power as some charter cities such as Oakland and San Francisco.

Oakland’s Independent Police Oversight Commission and its mayor fired the city’s police chief in 2020, and the San Francisco commission set guidelines for how police can arrest and search for suspects.

“The reality is that it’s strictly advisory because the government code also regulates what power we have,” Thorpe said. “Any resulting recommendations on policy prescriptions should be codified by the city council.”

Presenting the draft ordinance creating the commission at Tuesday’s city council meeting, City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith said the purpose of the police oversight commission was “to build confidence , transparency, accountability, and police-community relations in the city of Antioch by ensuring that the policies, practices, and customs of the Antioch Police Department meet or exceed national constitutional policing standards. »

The commission could advise council, the city manager and the chief of police on policy issues relating to public safety. It could also encourage community involvement and oversight by reviewing and recommending policing policies, procedures and programs that are sensitive to the city’s diverse needs, Smith said.

The council approved the creation of the commission, with only Vice Mayor Mike Barbanica, a former police officer, opposing it. Councilor Lori Ogorchock was absent.

The seven-member commission, which will be appointed by the council, is part of several police reforms introduced by Mayor Lamar Thorpe in February 2021. At the time, the council took on the role of an interim police oversight committee , with the aim of eventually forming a civilian commission later.

Promoter Frank Sterling urged the council to back the measure, saying his own negative experiences with the police had convinced him a review board was needed.

“Monitoring, in general, I think is important,” he said. “That’s why I urge you all to support this. … With policing, things don’t have to be the same. We are so used to it. It was done the old fashioned way. But we can imagine better and bring positive change.

Opponent Dr. Jeffrey Klinger, however, said that while he supported citizen police oversight boards, he did not believe Antioch was ready for one as outlined in the proposed order.

“I’d like to see what’s happening in the country, how those authorizations work and what their mandates are and how this order compares to those,” he said.

Klinger also objected to some of the wording, noting that the mayor should not just “endeavour” to appoint a representative from each of the council’s districts, but should be required to do so.

“The police oversight board, I think, is a great idea,” he said. “I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”

Others disagreed, including resident Harry Thurston.

“Going forward, I think it’s really important that people have a voice in policing,” he said.

Resident Lacey Ferguson said she wanted the commission to materialize quickly.

“I think something that’s not unique to our city is that our police department has forgotten that it works for people,” she said. “And I think a culture has been really cultivated and maintained in our community that really encourages our police officers to act independently of their community and even their superiors in some cases.”

“When people see an agenda item like this, they get a little defensive towards the police,” she added. “And I’d like to remind those people that a police oversight board doesn’t have the power to make important, impactful decisions for the police department.”

But Vice Mayor Mike Barbanica said with a new acting police chief on board for just two weeks, the council should give him more time and then seek his advice.

However, Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker said she has long defended civilian police commissions and supported the measure.

“The mayor is correct that being a common law town, we are limited in the powers we can manage,” she said. “This is an organization that will not only be able to make recommendations, but also educate itself, educate the community and, yes, build relationships with the police department.”

Torres-Walker, who has served on commissions in other cities, stressed that the police commission would not be merely symbolic.

“It’s an amazing process to be able to sit at the table and inform public policies, especially policies, practices and procedures that could cause someone’s death,” she said. .

Councilwoman Monica Wilson said she was amazed at how much “emotional conflict” was caused by the mere discussion of a police oversight board.

“This oversight really allows the community to have a voice, to just have a voice, and to provide input as an advisor,” she said.

“I believe that ultimately it will be something that uplifts and empowers,” she said.

Thorpe added that he has seen the efforts of current police officers who are not only ready to accept change, but who bring change to the table.

“I applaud their efforts for this,” he said. “But I believe that just focusing on the individual has not been the right approach. We need to focus on institutions and what we do for our community. I think that’s another layer of support in this effort.

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