Anaheim Moves Forward on Public Safety Review Board

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Anaheim is moving forward with a civilian public safety review board, despite the fact that people on both sides of the issue — police and mothers of police shooting victims — are critical of the city’s plan.

Police groups say the board goes too far, while the mothers are unhappy because the board won’t have subpoena power they say is necessary to investigate police shootings, City Manager Marcie Edwards told the City Council Tuesday night.

“What real civilian oversight requires is subpoena power, which this proposal has none,” said Donna Acevedo, mother of Joel Acevedo, who was killed after a car chase with police. “I say we keep working for something better to build trust.”

Edwards said that the proposed model is a pilot or “starting point” and subject to tweaking after it is up and running and staff receives input from board appointees.

“This is one of those airplanes you’ve got to get in the air. Then you can work on it while you’re trying to fly,” Edwards said.

Mayor Tom Tait proposed a civilian review board after two back-to-back police shootings — including the one that killed Acevedo — sparked unrest in working-class Latino neighborhoods that exploded into a downtown riot in the summer of 2012.

Of the 20 cities that have police oversight boards, four have subpoena power but don’t use it, because practically it can’t be enforced, according to city staff. They said state law precludes civilians from being able to conduct criminal investigations.

Tait said another problem is that the state’s police officers bill of rights severely limits cities from empowering civilians to investigate police officers. The mayor said Anaheim’s review board will give civilians oversight power up to what the state allows.

The public access limits of the police officers’ bill of rights were enshrined after the Copley Press v. Superior Court decision, a ruling against the San Diego Union-Tribune’s request for transcripts and other documents relating to a San Diego Civil Service Commission hearing on the termination of a San Diego County sheriff’s deputy.

Open government advocates said the decision effectively shut down civilian oversight in California.

The review board proposed in Anaheim will be charged with overseeing a wide range of public safety issues that span both the police and fire departments.

The board will examine “fire and police budgets, staffing levels, service delivery mechanisms, police and fire policies and practices, and certain critical incidents, such as police officer involved shootings, in-custody deaths or use of force incidents,” according to a staff report.

The proposal also calls for expanding the scope of the city’s external auditor, the Office of Independent Review, to review in real time whether policies and procedures were followed correctly during incidents such as police shootings.

Previously, the auditor issued regular reports but couldn’t be called to the scene the day of a shooting. Tait said this is an important distinction, because with the expanded power, the auditor can be on the scene to make sure witness statements are taken accurately, among other things.

The nine members of the board will be appointed via a lottery system that draws from four neighborhood council areas. The selection process, however, could be altered in the future, Edwards said.

Despite its limitations, Tait hailed the review board as an important step toward transparency, accountability and ultimately greater community trust.

“When you think about accountability and transparency, those are always things that make an organization better,” Tait said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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