Nearly two years ago, Anaheim’s image as a tourist destination was shattered when police fatally shot and killed two Latino men in the course of a summer weekend.
The deaths — coming on the heels of a surge in officer shootings that year — sparked four days of angry street protests and revealed a deeply divided community.
Today, little has changed in Orange County’s largest city. Latino residents, who account for 53% of Anaheim’s total population, remain distrustful of police.
Now Anaheim has hired Raul Quezada to head the city’s police department.
He is the first Latino chief in that department’s history.
Clearly, Quezada has a big job ahead of him. He must lead an embattled police force to embrace reforms while helping reduce crime and protecting private property.
It’s a tough job but not an impossible one.
The Los Angeles Police Department faced a similar crisis years ago. Minority residents in that city complained of rampant police abuse and a lax oversight system that failed to hold rogue officers accountable.
Today, LAPD is a far different law enforcement agency. It has a strong system of oversight in place and strong ties to the minority communities it serves. Much of that transformation is due to a federal consent decree and pressure from the community and elected leaders, but strong department leadership also played a critical role.
Both Chief William Bratton and Chief Charlie Beck embraced stronger oversight, thought carefully about engaging all residents, for the most part, made the department more open and transparent.
Now it is up to Quezada to show that he is capable of tackling the tough problems facing his department. So far, he’s shown himself willing to reach out to poor, minority neighborhoods that have long feared contact with police. That’s a good start, but much more is needed.
For example, the new chief ought to consider revamping the department’s system for dealing with use-of-force complaints and officer-involved shootings. A more robust oversight system and greater transparency are needed, given the high number of officer-involved shootings.
Over the last decade, Anaheim police were involved in at least 35 shootings, 21 of those fatal.
Empowering an independent review board to provide real oversight could help restore confidence in the department, just as it did in Los Angeles.
And if Quezada is serious about rebuilding trust with Latino residents, he should prioritize ensuring the department’s compliance with the California Trust Act, a new law that sets clear minimum standard for when local law enforcement will respond to federal immigration requests, known as detainers.
The Trust Act enjoys the broad support of many police chiefs across the state who understand that forcing police to act as immigration agents is not only costly but also hurts local communities by making immigrants fearful of law enforcement. In fact, a 2013 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found 44% of Latinos said they would be less likely to report a crime to police, fearing contact with an officer could lead to immigration questions about relatives or friends.
The new chief should also review Anaheim’s strategy for combating gangs.
Many cities, including Los Angeles, have made enormous strides in reducing gang-related violence by putting more resources into prevention and intervention programs rather than costly gang injunctions that restrict the legal activities of individuals, many of whom have not been accused or convicted of crimes. It costs far less to help keep a kid from joining a gang than it does to send him or her to prison for years.
And finally, we hope Quezada thinks twice about sending officers out to ticket homeless people. Surely, arresting homeless individuals and sending them to jail isn’t the way to deal with a social welfare problem. Anaheim officials and police should consider a broader approach that includes mental health care and supportive housing programs that offer a far better chance of moving individuals off the street and out of jail.
The hiring of Chief Quezada, who has made a point of engaging all of Anaheim’s communities, has a lot of promise. But his ultimate success will depend a lot on whether he is able to embrace and implement the policies that truly serve and protect all residents.
Hector Villagra is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.