Santa Ana city officials are again discussing creating a police oversight commission after numerous failed attempts in the past.

The current City Council, however, has expressed enough support for the concept to finally move forward with action.

City officials hosted a police oversight forum Wednesday night to begin the discussion regarding how Santa Ana could create a commission and what that would look like.

The forum came after years of debate locally about how to handle police misconduct and policy issues. In the last year alone, questions were raised about the department not prioritizing sexual assault reports; a Santa Ana police officer pleaded guilty to a federal charge alleging he accepted $128,000 in bribes from an unnamed crime figure; and, over the last decade, Santa Ana police lawsuit and legal claim settlements cost taxpayers at least $24 million.

Some residents say police oversight is needed now more than ever.

Bulmaro “Boomer “ Vicente of Santa Ana, who has served two terms as commissioner in the city of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, attended the forum and told Voice of OC Thursday that he found the event informative and helpful for the residents.

“I really enjoyed that there was emphasis on community involvement and representation and touching on the commission being independent from the city and also having this unfettered access to police documents and records to help with investigations,” Vicente said.

Vicente also emphasized that more opportunities for resident participation is necessary in the process to create a police oversight commission. 

“I’m hoping that this is just the first of many conversations that community members partake in when it comes to police oversight,” Vicente said. “I’m really hoping that we allow more opportunities for residents to be a part of these conversations, whether it’s part of group discussions, a community town hall, I believe there definitely needs to be more involvement and more say from the community.”

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The first half of the forum contained a city staff presentation of police oversight information and questions from the public.

Daniel Soto from the city manager’s office started off the event with information regarding the different models of police oversight, including the investigative model, the review-focused model and the auditor-monitor model, each with various levels of funding.

For example, the city of Oakland uses an investigation-focused police oversight model and has an annual budget of $4.1 million. Anaheim, on the other hand, uses the auditor-monitor model of police oversight with an annual budget of $125,000.

Soto also discussed the ability of some police review boards to issue subpoenas, a power that Santa Ana resident and activist Carlos Perea said is necessary to ensure accountability.

“What we really need in Santa Ana is strong police oversight, meaning it has teeth and the power to subpoena,” Perea said Tuesday. “It needs to have the powers to discipline police officers, and anything less than that isn’t going to work.”

Additionally, Soto encouraged community members to participate in an updated policing oversight community feedback survey, which is available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

The results from the survey and other community feedback will be presented to the council next month.

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At the end of his presentation, Soto took questions from the public, but he was unable to provide answers for many of the inquiries. Instead, he said he would research the other questions and post the answers on the city website.

The second half of the forum consisted of five panelists, who work with police oversight commissions across Southern California, answering questions provided by both the moderator, Paul Eakins, the Santa Ana public information officer, and the public. 

The panelists included: John Alden, executive director of the Oakland Community Police Review Agency; Tiffany Bailey, a Munger, Tolles & Olson Fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union; Michael Gennaco, independent auditor for the Anaheim Police Review Board; George Lippman, a former member of the Berkeley Police Review Commission; and, Eileen Teichert, the chair of the Riverside Community Police Review Commission.

Each panelist spoke to their involvement with police oversight and how they think the commission would best function in Santa Ana. 

Although Santa Ana Mayor Vincente Sarmiento told Voice of OC prior to the event that residents would have the opportunity to give public comment, attendees could only send in questions for city staff or the panelists to answer.

The panelists only took a handful of questions from the public, and instead spent most of their time at the forum answering questions posed by the moderator.

The speakers discussed how police oversight fits into modern policing and how it functions in each individual’s city.

“Especially in cities like Santa Ana where there is distrust of law enforcement because of past abuses and misconduct by the law enforcement agency, civilian oversight can be a meaningful first step to creating a police department that’s transparent and accountable to the people they serve,” Bailey said at the event.

The panelists also discussed how police oversight is a relatively new concept, and it is vital for each city to tailor it’s commission to its city needs.

“Rocket ships are actually older than oversight,” Gennaco said. “We are still evolving, and one solution probably doesn’t work for all. The whole point is to have a paradigm shift where there is an understanding that community voice, involvement and participation is really what’s necessary.”

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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