Activists Call for Stronger Anaheim Civilian Police Review Board

Protesters outside the Anaheim City Council Chamber in July 2012 venting their anger over two police shootings. They weren't allowed into the chamber because it was already at capacity. (Photo by: Brendan Wiles)

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Five years after Anaheim residents took to the streets to protest police-involved shootings that left two Latino men dead, a group of activists and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California are pushing the City Council for a more robust citizen oversight commission with subpoena and investigatory powers.

The city’s Public Safety Board was launched in 2014 in response to public outrage and major protests after the deaths of Joel Acevedo and Manuel Diaz during the same week in July 2012.

“The Public Safety Board, the first year, they never asked any questions,” said Donna Acevedo Nelson, the mother of Joel Acevedo, at a forum about the board on April 8 hosted by the Anaheim Community Coalition.

“A year and a half later, they finally did, and even they learned that they aren’t allowed to review anything,” said Acevedo-Nelson, who since her son’s death has become an active voice at city council meetings. She also co-chairs the Community Coalition with Theresa Smith, whose son was also killed by Anaheim police.

Now the City Council must decide whether to keep the two-year-old Public Safety Board as-is, expand the board and its powers or do away with it altogether. The board only was set up to exist for two years. It held it’s last meeting in February and if the city doesn’t renew it, it will go out of business. The city council hasn’t set a date to discuss it.

Unlike city commissions, which report to the City Council, the Public Safety Board has no policy-making authority and makes recommendations to the city manager. The board can’t conduct or order investigations into incidents and does not have subpoena power.

Although billed as one of several major changes to improve public confidence and citizen input into the Anaheim Police Department, police accountability activists say much of the public is unaware of the board’s existence and often deride it as a do-nothing body lacking any real authority.

Calls for More Authority

At the forum, activists painted a picture of a city that has not moved on from the protests of the summer of 2012.

Jennifer Rojas, a policy advocate for the ACLU, cited statistics she said were based on FBI data claiming Anaheim is the ninth deadliest police force per capita among the 60 largest U.S. cities.

“From 2002 to 2016, APD (Anaheim Police Department) were involved in 37 deaths, of which 3 were homicides during arrest,” Rojas stated in a letter to the City Council.

“Between the first Public Safety Board meetings in October 2014 to the most recent in February 2017, seven people were killed by APD.”

The ACLU report has yet to be published and released to the public.

The ACLU also has recommended the Public Safety board report directly to the City Council; not include representation from the police union or police department; have broad scope to review complaints and incidents; have the ability to issue subpoenas; and be able to recommend disciplinary action for officers.

“[The mission] doesn’t need to be vague,” said David Haas “…who benefits when it’s unclear? The police.”

Haas, a member of the Latino advocacy group Los Amigos and a Long Beach-based attorney who served on a similar board for San Diego County in the 1990s, said activists should push for the board to have its own legal counsel.

“What kind of advice you are getting, it can be very conservative,” Haas said. “Things like, ‘oh no. you can’t try a subpoena. Nobody does a subpoena.’”

A report conducted for the City Council by consultant Joseph Brann found several of the board’s members felt their work was hampered by conflicts within the board and with City Manager Paul Emery, who has sole discretion over whether or not to implement any of their recommendations.

Board members complained in Brann’s report that they don’t have a set budget or part-time staff support.

“Right now, the public safety board is tucked away…it should be archived on (the city’s TV) Channel 3, in the same setting as City Council,” said panelist Renee Balenti.

One of the ACLU’s recommendations is for the board to have funding that is a fixed percentage of the police department’s total noncapital budget.

The police department spent $132,889,000 during the 2015-16 fiscal year, according to the city’s 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. If the city council devoted one percent of that to the Public Safety Board, it would have a $1.3 million annual budget.

Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, for example, the oldest police review board in the country, has a budget of $570,417 for the 2017-18 fiscal year. 

By comparison, Anaheim spent $1.55 million in a 2012 settlement to the widow and parents of Julian Alexander, a man shot and killed by Anaheim police.

Pushback from the Police Association

Although the City Council has not voted on any specific proposals for the board, already two council members and the Anaheim Police Officers’ Association have come out against giving the board increased authority.

Councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring have both rejected calls from Councilman Jose Moreno to elevate the Public Safety Board into an “independent, investigative police commission.”

“I don’t think anything we’ve heard today warrants that measure [of authority],” Murray said at a meeting in late February.

Police association President Edgar Hampton said at a city council meeting in March that the union agreed with the original concept of the Public Safety Board but objects to giving more power to a board run by civilians.

“You need to understand that a civilian point of view of what police work is being done is not necessarily the best point of view to have,” Hampton said. “‘I don’t like what that police officer did’…doesn’t mean it’s out of policy or against the law.”

Hampton said of the 208,710 calls for service the department received in 2016, 136 involved use of force.

“In my opinion that’s hardly some agency that’s on the verge of consent decree,” Hampton said.

He was critical of efforts in other cities to establish police review boards, calling meetings for the civilian-run Los Angeles Police Commission “a zoo.”

“It should be a professional organization with people who act professionally…and not people who decide to scream obscenities at the police,” Hampton said.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • As a life long union member and now recipient of a union pension I find myself choking on bile when Police labor organizations call themselves “unions” I think Police Protective League is a better name. They are more of a lobbying/PAC organization than a union. They seldom support any other union, many of their members will often cross other union picket lines. (example retail clerks union) I believe if any city finds the need to establish a citizens review board it should have funds to operate and subpoena powers. Also I believe there should also be a police rep on the board.

  • Ocsays

    Hey, I remember this guy LFOldtimer. Used to be “Ocobserver” on the Register, “Letitcollapse” on Calwatchdog, “Justus” on FriendsforFullertonsFuture”, and “Beezlebub” on Voiceof OC. He’s been banned from other forums, or just left after refusing to be on Facebook for obvious reasons. What a delight, I thought he was dead.

    • LFOldTimer

      You’re wrong on so many counts I don’t know where to start.

      You’re just another one of these board hit men who don’t like my legitimate and valid opinions – so you launch into personal attacks as opposed to participating in the discussion and giving us your point of view. Commenters like you should be banned because your purpose is just to start fights and discord on the board. You’re a troublemaker. I wish Norberto would start throwing some of you off the board who are not complying with the board guidelines. You’re a provocateur. Plain and simple. Go get a room with justanon. Sooner or later you’ll be fighting like cat and dog and the fur will fly. It’s in your blood.

    • verifiedsane

      Ocsays Troll, When someone comes here simply to attack someone commenting with absolutely nothing to add to the topic or conversation….then it’s not rocket science or difficult to see through their leftest attack charade….now go run home to your mommy, diamond in the buff, and diaper boy justanon…..

      • LFOldTimer

        And the more valid and persuasive the argument the more vitriolic the insults become. This seems to be the part of the new liberal playbook. Inevitably the conservatives are targeted and provoked into defending themselves.

        Did you see any conservatives commit acts of violence on the Pink Hats when they marched across the nation? Heck no. Trump supporters didn’t try to block their processions or pick fights. But it seems that everytime the Trump people have their own rally masked provocateurs show up to cause havoc.

        Oh, and lately I’ve questioned some of Trump’s actions and inactions. He’s still head and shoulders above Hildebeast. But I’ve been disappointed lately. I was very annoyed with his order to fire 60 Tomahawk missiles at Syria, for instance. Ironically most of the “anti-war” Democrats supported his military attack. And Trump seems to be slip sliding away from some of his campaign promises. I find that bothersome.

        The difference between me and a liberal is that when the facts change I reserve the right to change my opinion about a political figure. I don’t carry anybody’s water. I call ’em like I see ’em. But liberals will back their chosen candidate regardless of his or her behavior. The sick loyalty demonstrated by the liberals is abhorrent.

        • Old Timer It is not just liberals, I have seen so many more conservative trolls than liberals on the many sites I visit, No political party is innocent and most party supporters on each side will become rabid dogs when their particular favorite representative is questioned. But yes any visitor that just attacks commentors should be held accountable.

          • LFOldTimer

            That might very well be true, Dweeze. But it’s always the liberals who personally attack me for having opinions different from their own on some subject matter. I’ve been called a ‘racist’, a ‘bigot’ and even a ‘child molester’ on this board for opposing illegal immigration and providing valid arguments to support my position.

            You know me, Dweeze. I go after the Republican supervisors like a rabid dog whenever they step out of line and deserve it. Recently I even criticized Trump for ordering a missile attack on Syria and indicating he wanted to oust Assad after he told us during his campaign that he opposed nation building and more regime change. I will call him out at the drop of a hat if he screws up. The complete opposite of the way the liberals protected Obama.

            That’s the difference between me and a liberal, Dweeze. And I don’t call liberals vulgar names for having opinions different from my own. But if I’m attacked I won’t be a punching bag either. I fight back.

            Yes. Those who precipitate personal attacks on other posters merely for the opinions they hold should be banned from the VOC comment board. They’re nothing but troublemakers and agitators who detract from the purpose of a comment board – which is to voice opinions on matters of public interest, exchange opinions , debate those opinions, and draw conclusions from the information shared.

            But this should not be a forum where bully agitators beat other commenters up for the opinions they hold. And those who do so should be banned from the site.

      • Ocsays

        “Unsubscribe”

        Sent from my iPad

        • LFOldTimer

          If you can’t be constructive and add merit to the discussion on matters of public interest – stay off the board. Caustic infiltrators who come here to personally attack others for their opinions that are held by millions of other Americans w/o adding any value to the discussion are not welcomed. Go run in circles and bite your tail to release your negative energy.

  • Cynthia Ward

    Why is it that every discussion of citizen oversight immediately assumes a negative finding against the Police? It is my experience that the majority of us citizens support the Police, and want oversight as a layer of assurance to the public that our law enforcement professionals are trustworthy. It is sad that the DA’s office is so discredited that their review of police incidents no longer assures the populace. But it is rather paranoid to immediately default to a “victim being picked on” mentality when citizens want very reasonable answers from those with the authority to deny us our property, our freedoms, and our lives, all while spending the largest percentage of our General Fund per budget cycle. This is a department tasked with enormous public trust, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t demand more oversight as protection/validation for themselves. In fact, can anyone show a list of findings from public safety boards (in any city) that support a view of unfairly punished/targeted officers? I certainly haven’t heard of anything but respect for the department from those in Anaheim offering their time to provide officers with another level of assurance between those on duty and those they serve. Show me one report of an Anaheim oversight board member “screaming obscenities at the police.” What a ridiculous claim! Hampton’s credibility tanked with that one.

    The APA’s excuses for not having oversight are insults to the taxpayers who employ them. They are especially awkward coming from a department that holds the theory if WE are doing nothing wrong then we should not object to any intrusive methods officers wish to employ to check up on us. We subject ourselves to cameras in parks in the name of public safety, but they object to letting us see video of them doing the jobs WE pay them to do.

    Guess what? A “jury of one’s peers” is not selected from a collection of law enforcement professionals. If the APA’s idea of a level playing field isn’t accommodated to those facing potential civil or criminal charges, then why is it required (in the minds of some) as the basis for basic civilian oversight? This demand appears to put law enforcement pros above the law, and I respect and admire our public safety crews, but they should answer to the same standard (or higher) as those they “protect and serve.”

    It is especially insulting that Hampton thinks so little of those who employ him that he believes a potential oversight board would skip over the need to examine best practices or policy and jump right into attacking the Police because they “don’t like what the officer did?” He really sees us as that stupid. I had little use for Hampton’s predecessor on the APA, as Kerry was a blowhard who didn’t know the truth if it was tattooed on his forearm. I am saddened to see his successor seems to be reading from Condon’s training manual. I hope this is not a department-wide reflection of the low opinion held by officers for the citizens they serve.

    • LFOldTimer

      Look, Cynthia. You’re a bright lady. You must know that the politicians and the cops are in an unholy alliance. You realize that the unions buy off the pols with campaign money and endorsements. And if the pols don’t dance to their music – the unions promote regime change.

      Look at what the union did to Chief Rojas in SA after he fired the cops who acted like gang members during the weed dispensary search warrant (which was all caught on tape). The union and the bought off council members crucified the poor man who was only trying to clean up the dirt in his department. This sent a message to all OC police chiefs. Turn a blind eye to our shenanigans….or else. A shot was fired over the bow. And to add injury to insult – the SA personnel board reinstated the cop (w/ back pay) after we witnessed with our own eyes what he did on video. ha.

      So this situation is much more complex and dire than you make it out to be. It’s systemic. I view it as a coup when armed forces take over political offices.

      Hampton is just a pawn for the rest of them who remain silent behind the scenes. He’s the front man. He follows the marching order of the pols and the rank ‘n file.

      Mark my words. There won’t be any ‘new and improved’ police oversight board. They’ll just hire another puppet and some of the actors will change seats. More toothless or complicit lapdogs at a premium price to the taxpayer. The ones who are traditionally supposed to be held to the highest of standards demand lower standards.

      Our beloved nation is under siege. All those traditional values that made us the shining beacon on the hill are being defiled and shat upon by the very ones who are supposed to have the very most integrity and character. Very distressing for sure.

      God help America.

    • David Zenger

      Right, if WE are doing nothing wrong we have nothing to worry about. Why doesn’t that logic apply to the police?

  • WW

    I vote residents be empowered a commission to PARTICIPATE in reviewing APD’s conduct.

    With valid political and legal input. Like the DA, Grand Jury, City Council, ACLU, lawyers, and juries…

    Lets put this social advancement ON THE NEXT CITY BALLOT.

    I’ll also vote for Anaheim Councilperson Dr. Jose Moreno as the NEXT ANAHEIM MAYOR.

    That “councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring have both rejected calls from Councilman Jose Moreno to elevate the Public Safety Board into an “independent, investigative police commission”, shows how careless they are serving the people.

    • Becks T.

      Mayor Tait has done a great job and is definitely for the people. He will always be my family’s choice for mayor. He cannot control trigger happy police officers, but can certainly support an improved safety board.

  • WW

    I vote Anaheim residents be empowered to PARTICPATE in legal opinions on APD conduct.
    As another political and legal entity, like the D.A. and Grand Jury, the City Council, the ACLU, private attorneys, and juries.

  • LFOldTimer

    You can call for whatever you want until you’re blue in the face and all the cows come home. When it comes to police review boards all you’ll get are plastic watchdogs with zero influence or nothing at all.

    Breaking News: The police unions own the politicians. We’re living under conditions similar to Chicago 1930. the difference is today the crooks don’t own city hall. The cops do. That why all you see are hand slaps or the need for “more training”.

    Until you folks understand that you won’t even know where to start. You’ll keep running in circles chasing your own tails.

    • David Zenger

      In Anaheim the police and fire unions have been in oligarchic lockstep with the Resort, Disney, the Chamber of Commerce, SOAR, etc., etc. electing a council majority. That’s why Kring and Murray – the kleptocratic legaccy – are opposed to any sort of real oversight.

      They lost their majority in November so maybe there is hope.

      • LFOldTimer

        It’s not just Anaheim. It’s everywhere. Have you heard even one politician ask to agendize a discussion on some of these OC police scandals that have received worldwide attention (eg. illegal informants, etc..) for their meeting agendas? It’s as rare as a 2-headed goat. Why do you think that is? After a huge legal payout ($millions$) of taxpayer money is made to someone or someone’s family due to wrongdoing on part of the police – is there ever a public discussion afterwards? Rarely. Is the public allowed access to examine the evidence that led to the settlement? Nope. It’s all hidden after the fact.

        Remember several years ago when an Anaheim cop shot & killed the black kid Julian Alexander as he stood on his front porch after he heard commotion outside? It was very controversial. He lived there. He was innocent. He did nothing wrong. His mistake was opening the door and stepping out on his front porch after hearing some noise. The cop got a nice paid vacation and soon thereafter was returned to normal duty. The city of Anaheim paid the kid’s family $1.55 million. What you probably don’t know is that the local media did not report the payout for at least a year or two afterwards. It was concealed until someone from the public started asking questions. ha. Oh, of course it was an inadvertent oversight. ha.

        So this unholy alliance between the pols and the cops is a systemic problem and something that should not be tolerated in a nation that has prided itself on equality under the law and authority figures being held to a higher standard. They’ve made a complete mockery of both principles which our Founding Fathers meant to be 2 of the primary vertebrae in the backbone of our American justice system.

        I don’t have any answers for you. I just know things aren’t getting any better. I love my country and it makes me sad to watch it disintegrate before my very eyes. I’ve lived most my life. So I’m not so concerned with my future, but for the future of our young people – like my parents were concerned for my generation’s future. When they handed off the ball to us we fumbled it.

        “They lost their majority in November so maybe there is hope.”

        Don’t count on it. All it takes is for one to get bought off. And if they do give you something (for show) it will be a toothless and impotent lion.

        Don’t let them fool you.

  • Jackie Brodsky

    Ask the OC Grand Jury 2017-2018 to investigate. They have subpoena power. Send a letter to new GJ-foreperson on July 1.

    • LFOldTimer

      You can write the GJ yourself and request an investigation.

      Did you know that?

      Realistically, the GJ is the only watchdog agency in the county that has an teeth left, although it lost some in the last 2-3 years. I hope they don’t all fall out making them just another toothless wonder feigning to be a vigilant sabre tooth tiger guarding the interests of the people.We already have enough of those. Little purring kittens that like their tummies scratched.

      • Jackie Brodsky

        Yes, I know it very well.

  • verifiedsane

    This is a question of who the police are supposed to protect and serve; The Police Union & ruling city council oligarchy, or the citizenry? Of course the powers that be don’t want actual citizen oversight!
    The Civilian Police Review Board was created and designed to be nothing more than feckless window dressing to begin with.

    This is what the police think of the citizens who pay their salaries and are supposed to be protected & served: “You need to understand that a civilian point of view of what police work is being done is not necessarily the best point of view to have,” Hampton said. “‘I don’t like what that police officer did’…doesn’t mean it’s out of policy or against the law.”

    If there is going to be a Civilian Police Review Board and citizen oversight of the police conduct; it must be a real “independent, investigative police commission.” with subpoena powers.

    Why even have a review board that doesn’t or can’t do anything; this is like be served a bad replay or rewind of the County Sheriffs’ infamous OIR (without the huge waste of public monies).

    The counsel needs to decide if they want actual citizen police oversight or not. Playing window dressing games, or pandering to the police union just doesn’t cut the leadership mustard anymore.

  • David Zenger

    Edgar, stop resisting!