Santana: No Civilian Oversight Over Police Is Better Than Faux Oversight

When political leaders don’t want to lead, they propose to study.

It’s the ultimate stall tactic and usually quite effective in buying time, if not burying sticky issues altogether.

But the stall often comes with a hefty price tag.

Following a 3-2 vote by county supervisors earlier this month, taxpayers get to spend $120,000 for the rest of this year (keep in mind that November and December are no-work months in government) to have Los Angeles-based consultant Mike Gennaco tell us whether the work of his side business – OIR Group – has any value and whether OIR should be replaced by another model of oversight here in Orange County.

In short, Orange County taxpayers this year get to dole out nearly $30,000 every month for the remainder of this year to keep up the fantasy that county leaders are interested in heightening civilian oversight over law enforcement.

They are not.

They will not.

This is all just a pretty bullshit ballet…with a $120,000 bar tab.

Gennaco’s colleague and business partner, Steve Connolly, has been in hot water here ever since his contract began back in 2008 after the jail killing of John Derek Chamberlain.

I virtually witnessed the birth of OIR watching my then-colleague Tony Saavedra of the Orange County Register interview then-County Supervisor John Moorlach about the killing and what government leaders were doing about it.

Moorlach – whether knowingly or unknowingly – made the wisest and most interesting decision in the murder’s aftermath calling on his then-chief of staff Mario Mainero to immediately head down to the jail and see what was happening.

That made all the difference in the world.

Mainero, now a law professor at Chapman University, saw numerous irregularities and acted as a good citizen, a good Catholic, and reported what he saw regardless of political fallout.

That forced change.

That’s civilian oversight.

They’re called elected officials, who have the strength of character to do their job – especially when it’s a tough one.

But then Moorlach overstepped.

Faced with reporters’ questions about what the government was doing, he ignored his conservative ideology and decided to create an entire new government department because of one scandal.

Moorlach leaned on what most politicians do – adding staff – when confronted with a tough policy challenge.

Meet the Office of Independent Review.

Ironically, today it’s State Sen. Moorlach who is leading a fascinating charge against Caltrans’ bloated bureaucracy.

Yet back in 2008, Orange County supervisors were embarrassed by the revelations from the Chamberlain murder – of deputies watching videos while an inmate was beaten to death – and they trotted out OIR as a compromise.

As with most window-dressing reforms, supervisors allowed people to call OIR civilian review, which it is very much not.

Civilian review panels typically look deeply into use of force incidents in a very public manner and are bitterly opposed by most elected sheriffs and law enforcement unions.

OIR, in turn, allows departments to analyze their actions with an extra layer of analysis by the so-called independent assessment of OIR. These types of after-action analysis typically get more cooperation from departments because they don’t’ publicize what’s happening.

Indeed, the most interesting revelation during these past months of deliberations over OIR has come from Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who has openly challenged county supervisors saying that she won’t cooperate with any of outside review of her department’s actions.

Hutchens likes the cozy relationship her department has with OIR. Moorlach also indicates that Connolly has helped solve countless issues inside the department that cannot be publicized.

Hutchens has been a staunch supporter of OIR, saying it’s virtually the only thing holding back a federal take over of Orange County jails – a contention that has obviously has enraged the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, the deputies union.

But lets remember one thing here.

It’s Los Angeles County – which had OIR and a civilian review board – that has a jail system undergoing a massive questioning.

That’s the same agency where Hutchens was a top commander before coming to Orange County.

And remember one last thing, in fairness to the work of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

There hasn’t been a visible jail beating scandal since Chamberlain in 2008.

Meanwhile, the civic center area in downtown Santa Ana with hundreds of homeless residents searching for help on the public grounds could desperately use a pair of social workers to work the area and help connect people to existing government programs.

That’s a much better use of $120,000.