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Santa Ana city officials are hosting a community forum at 7 p.m. tonight on Zoom to gauge public opinion on a police oversight commission before city council members begin creating the oversight body.

The forum will also feature five panelists, who will speak about their experiences with similar police oversight bodies.

“We want to incorporate the suggestions that are made by the community,” Santa Ana Mayor Vincente Sarmiento said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Having a town hall dedicated specifically to this will hopefully encourage and make the residents understand how important this is to the council.”

One police reform activist said the oversight commission needs the ability to discipline officers for misconduct and other department policy violations.

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

Residents will also get a chance to publicly weigh in on the issue at the forum.

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Sarmiento said the idea of creating a police oversight commission in the city was first brought to the council five years ago, but it didn’t have the political support to move forward until this year.

Council members Phil Bacerra and David Penaloza directed staff last year to research the creation of a police oversight commission, but no further action has occurred until now.

In the past, the council has repeatedly discussed creating some sort of police oversight board, but the idea has been repeatedly shut down by past council members.

“This year, there was a majority support for creating some sort of oversight commission,” Sarmineto said. “The form it will take is sort of the purpose of the town hall, which is to have the community guide what kind of commission they want to see.”

Perea said the city has spent millions of dollars in police settlements, many which stem from police misconduct, and strong police oversight would save millions of taxpayer dollars for the city. 

“A police oversight committee would be a true independent body outside of the politics that is able to do things right and restore the trust of the public in the city government,” Perea said.

Today’s forum will feature:

  • John Alden (Executive Director, Oakland Community Police Review Agency)
  • Tiffany Bailey (Munger, Tolles & Olson Fellow, ACLU)
  • Michael Gennaco (Independent Auditor, Anaheim Police Review Board)
  • George Lippman (former Member, Berkeley Police Review Commission)
  • Eileen Teichert (Chair, Riverside Community Police Review Commission)

Sarmiento said the panelists were chosen by staff to represent the different ways police oversight boards are represented across Southern California.

“I want to see as many opinions as possible and hopefully as robust participation from the community as possible,” Sarmiento said. “Unlike other communities and other counties, we welcome public input, and that’s what guides our public policy … My hope is that we will have a good robust discussion by our community to help give us some of their goals on what this commission should look like.”

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This discussion comes after last year’s community feedback found residents consider police oversight necessary in the city.

Around 72% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that police oversight is needed in Santa Ana, while about that same number agreed it would positively affect public safety in the city, according to a 2020 survey of approximately 597 Santa Ana residents and business owners.

Santa Ana city officials also encourage community members to participate in an updated policing oversight community feedback survey.

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

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