Santa Ana Hosts Civilian Police Oversight Forum

As Santa Ana City Council plans to create a police oversight commission, the city hosted a virtual forum Wednesday evening to hear a panel of experts and answer questions from the public.

The city is trying to determine what specific model and what kind of authority its police board should have. He encourages residents to complete a investigation on its website to gauge public opinion on police surveillance.

City staff will compile the survey findings and forum results into a report and present it to city council next month.

Panelists for the virtual event included John Alden, executive director of the Oakland Community Police Review Agency, Tiffany Bailey of the American Civil Liberties Union, George Lippman, former member of the Berkeley Police Review Commission, Eileen Teichert, chair of the Riverside Community Police Review Board and Michael Gennaco, an independent auditor for the Anaheim Police Review Board.

“I think the way surveillance fits into law enforcement today is that it is an essential feedback loop for any city in determining whether or not its police are policing. in a way that meets the expectations of the community, ”said Alden. “Civilian oversight… gives the community a very direct way to have a say in individual complaints about police misconduct, patterns of police behavior… and even in changing police service policies. police, which could be written behind closed doors without any input from the public. . And these three powers, I think, can really drastically change the behavior of the police. “

Bailey said forming a police oversight board is the first step in fostering a transparent and accountable police service. However, this will only work if the commission model is solid.

“Which means it has an independent investigative authority, subpoena power and all those other tools that make civilian oversight particularly effective,” she said.

In another survey that the city initially used to gather community feedback on police surveillance, respondents listed the proposed commission’s top priorities as transparency, community outreach, use of analytics statistical models, open communication with the police service, independence, access to public records, increased resources, increased protection of the rights of peace officers and support for government and elected officials.

During the forum, the experts described the different operations of their commissions.

Alden said the Oakland Police Review Agency has the power to investigate every civilian complaint about police misconduct, although budget restrictions require it to prioritize investigations. He also said the commission had “unhindered” access to police records, which is useful in trying to determine if an officer is behaving improperly. Teichert said the Riverside commission has the power to subpoena for police cases.

Gennaco said it’s important for a civilian police oversight commission to have the help of a professional who understands law enforcement.

“In my opinion, a review board without a professional, without some kind of independent assistance and expertise, is going to be largely at sea, because policing is a very complicated operation,” he said. -he declares. “There is so much to learn that even people of good will won’t be able to level up to meet the goals here. And I think the assistance of an independent third party, I think, is crucial.

Anaheim has the only civilian police review board in Orange County. It is made up of seven residents, but the city also contracts with the Gennaco Investigative Review Group office, which has access to confidential files to provide investigations and reports on the police department.

Bailey said the Oakland Police Board is the most desirable because it touches on all the elements necessary for effective oversight.

“An Oakland model that allows people to be very involved in the discipline is particularly powerful. This means that it is not just a stamp or a simple review of the investigation, but that the community is actively engaged in what is going on, ”she said. Likewise, unimpeded access to police records and the ability to review exactly what’s going on in the department to make sure the board gets the information it needs to really look into the matter. and provide some kind of fair and impartial recommendation. .. And then also the possibility of changing the policy, so that it is not only consultative, but that it recommends it in certain circumstances.

City council first discussed police surveillance in June 2020, weeks after the police murder of George Floyd sparked a nationwide toll of police brutality. In December, city staff presented information to the council on three models of civilian police oversight commissions: investigative-focused, review-oriented, and auditor / monitor models.

The investigative-driven model relies on independent investigations of complaints against officers, while the review-driven models focus on commenting on completed investigations and making recommendations to police officials.

The auditor / monitor model aims to instill change by making recommendations to police services after reviewing police policies, practices or training. This model examines how the department handles complaint investigations, including the quality of the investigations, the findings and the discipline imposed.

Most board members favored an investigative-focused commission, an auditor / comptroller model, or a hybrid of the two.

Councilor Jessie Lopez proposed a model similar to Oakland, which has the power to fire and rental a new leader. Mayor Vicente Sarmiento favored the Riverside model.

City Councilor Johnathan Hernandez mentioned at the December meeting that he would like to have commission members who have been through the court system.

“As this country is facing and we have seen very adverse police misconduct across the country, I think there is a need to have an ideological shift in the inclusiveness of the criminal justice system,” Hernandez said.

During the question-and-answer section of the watchdog forum, a member of the public asked the experts if people could be part of a commission if they had a criminal history.

Alden said the city of Oakland encourages people with a criminal background to apply for the commission. Teichert said people are not qualified if they are guilty of a crime. She said the city of Santa Ana should be careful not to “inadvertently exclude those who [it doesn’t] want to exclude.

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