Santana: Will Anaheim Invest in Youth & Police Oversight Before It’s Too Late?

How did Anaheim Police last week decide so quickly to arrest two Latino teenagers and release a white, off-duty LAPD officer who had just been involved in a neighborhood fight with them – and discharged his weapon amidst a crowd of youth walking home from school?

That’s the central question that some sort of independent entity has to quickly answer to keep Anaheim’s streets from boiling over.

I doubt the city’s Public Safety Board – up for public review itself on Tuesday – can come anywhere near close.

In fact, I doubt the panel survives this entire affair.

It’s time for a real, independent citizen’s police review board in Anaheim.

It’s the best way ultimately to protect people’s faith in the system as well as ensure officers’ a fair review of difficult incidents.

Both are in serious jeopardy right now.

Last week, after watching an ugly viral video of the off-duty LAPD officer dragging a young Latino across a neighborhood hedge stirred deep feelings, certainly on my part, but most importantly on the streets on Anaheim.

Many smart, young adults that I’ve engaged with at civic events in Anaheim and Santa Ana, like election debates, were out on the streets, with a different tone, a really angry one. While monitoring Facebook and talking to sources that night, I truly feared things would take a dark turn.

It wasn’t long ago, 2012 to be exact, that Anaheim streets did take a turn for the worse after a series of officer-involved shootings triggered riots.

At the time, there was a lot of soul searching and analysis. Indeed, the Public Safety Board – reporting to the City Manager’s Officer – was set up as a direct result in 2014.

I even recall there was a big consultant study that concluded more funding needed to be directed at youth.

Yet this past week made me wonder whether either one really happened over the past five years?

“This is a child that got choked and then shot at,” said Gabby Hernandez of Chicanos Unidos last week during protests over the incident.

“Instead of the city and law enforcement being compassionate about that…No. Not that. The response was to arrest this kid, charge him with the most they can and release the officer,” she said.

How’s that for change?”

Frankly, it does seems like much of the city’s bureaucracy and council majority has spent the past five years fighting change – such as resisting district elections as well as questions about where city infrastructure investments are being made – while instituting tax breaks for select big businesses like Disney and hotel interests.

How much attention, in turn, has the city budget given area schools?

And what about the Public Safety Board?

Without subpoena power, independence or any investigative muscle, its public reviews are less than stellar.

Meanwhile, more and more young people don’t believe that police are held accountable in their communities.

And the challenge for city leaders is that they are largely correct.

Thanks to the implementation of the Police Officers Bill of Rights, most attempts at civilian review in California have come up short – in terms of being able to offer the public timely independent assessments of law enforcement decision-making in tough incidents.

Yet during times like these in Anaheim, city leaders need to be able to look at young people and credibly say that there are answers coming quickly.

Not just big gatherings to assess feelings.

Accountability.

Now, there are internal reviews being conducted at Anaheim PD and LAPD.

But the public isn’t likely to get much out of either of those anytime soon.

We would from a real, independent civilian police review board.