Although specific details have yet to be hammered out, the Anaheim City Council is considering the establishment of a citizens review commission to examine allegations of police misconduct.
Tait’s proposal, announced at last week’s council meeting, stems from public outrage that erupted two months ago after separate police shootings killed two Latino men and led to a downtown riot outside City Hall. Anger over previous police shootings had already been simmering, with residents attending council meetings and publicly accusing officers of killing with impunity.
“I think the time has come,” Tait said at last week’s meeting.
Details of the commission’s structure have yet to be determined. City Manager Bob Wingenroth will study other boards, Tait said. He also said he and Wingenroth will attend a conference of the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Oct. 14 in San Diego.
“I asked the city manager to find out if there is a consensus, best practice, or if not, one that he feels makes the most sense,” Tait said.
The city’s Latino activists, who have been pushing for a civilian oversight body to restore the Latino community’s trust in the police department, were surprised and pleased by the news.
“For people who live in neighborhoods, who are average citizens, to participate in the review of police departments can only be a good thing,” said Jose Moreno, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, a grass-roots Latino group. Moreno is a member of Voice of OC’s Community Editorial Board.
While some cities across the state have civilian oversight bodies, public access to their findings and deliberations was significantly curtailed by the 2006 California Supreme Court decision in the Copley Press vs. Superior Court case.
Open government advocates say when the high court ruled against the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper's request for access to transcripts and other documents relating to a San Diego Civil Service Commission hearing on the termination of a San Diego County sheriff's deputy, it effectively shut down civilian oversight in California.
Still, that complaints in Anaheim would be examined with an “independent set of eyes” is important to maintaining the public’s trust in its police force, Tait said.
Moreno agreed but said that, to be effective, the commission’s recommendations would need to be enforced. “What that means in terms of actual powers, I don’t know. It certainly should have some power to it beyond simply advisory,” Moreno said.
Tait said that’s one of many details city officials must research.
“Unless [a commission] has some authority, it's not going to be taken seriously,” Tait said. “But I don't know yet. It could be advisory to the council, it could be advisory to the city manager, to the police chief. … Those are all issues we have to figure out.”
Anaheim Police Department public information officer Bob Dunn said that department officials welcome more oversight.
“There are a lot of models out there, so I think there would have to be some dialogue about what the process involves,” Dunn said. “We’re willing to work with anybody through that.”