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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Part IV: Examination of the Police Advisory Committee

Part IV of the seven part series takes a lot at the Police Advisory Committee.

The names for the Police Advisory Committee were barely announced when Bob Dunning of the Davis Enterprise was singing its praises. On May 9, 2006 he writes:

[F]or those who might not recognize the names of Calvin Handy, David Sandino and Joseph Taylor, trust me, we're dealing with integrity at the highest level here … those three, named by new City Manager Bill Emlen to this city's newly created Police Advisory Committee, will serve our city well …

None of them would participate in this if they were simply coming aboard to rubber-stamp police actions … they will approach this task without preconceived notions or political agendas … they are ordinary — yet extraordinary — citizens who have been asked to step into a pot of boiling water and turn down the heat from the inside out … lucky for us, they all said yes …

In short, these three dedicated Davisites already have interesting, relevant lives and have no need to make a name for themselves by participating on this panel … only time will tell how this will all wash out, but at this early date it appears the first major decision of the Emlen Administration is a good one …

I start out by saying that I have no desire to disparage the individuals on the committee. I know many people who speak very highly of Retired Police Chief Calvin Handy. Few probably realize that Handy himself was on the hot seat as Chief of the UC Davis Police Department and the Davis Human Relations Commission came to his aid and helped save his job. David Sandino, an attorney with the CA State Water Resources Board, ran against Mariko Yamada for County Supervisor, certainly that was not a fair fight and he also served for a time on the planning commission. I do not know anything about Joseph Taylor other than the fact that he is a professor at McGeorge Law School.

However, as Bob Dunning himself said, the structure of the model is more important than the individuals and that is what this segment focuses on.

The description of the role of the PAC comes from the City Council Agenda from May 2, 2006:

In addition to the development of the police ombudsman function, staff had already proposed the creation of a three-person Police Advisory Committee (PAC) to work with the City Manager. The PAC will provide an added level of review on police complaints and on the police ombudsman function. The PAC will review citizen complaint investigations, paying special attention to investigations where the police ombudsman noted issues of concern, assess the workload and effectiveness of the police ombudsman and provide comments and recommendations to the City Manager. They will review citizen complaints so that they may look for trends and for the thoroughness of the investigations and will look at Police Department policy and training.”

As with the ombudsman there are several weaknesses with this group:

  1. While the PAC reviews citizen complaint investigations, they do not themselves investigate complaints. So this is primarily an auditor function rather than a separate investigation function.

  2. It is unclear how much authority they possess. They appear to have advisory capacity only. They also appear to rely on the City Manager and the Ombudsman to bring issues to their attention, which means they will only be as effective as those two bodies will allow them to be. While in some ways this seems a small point, it also means they are not truly another independent body of review.

  3. The review process of the disposition of complaints is limited unless the PAC is given the actual authority to conduct investigations. In other words, if the PAC reads the report by the IAD on the investigation of the complaint, it may not be apparent where or whether there are shortcomings in the review process. Only a second investigation may reveal key questions that are not asked or consider witnesses not interviewed or other facts not discovered. It does not appear that the PAC would have the authority to conduct such secondary investigations. This is the same problem that the current system has—the City Manager currently possesses the ability to review the investigation of complaints. What none of these bodies have is the ability to conduct investigations on their own to determine that the investigation was thorough and complete. And, none of these bodies has the ability to be the primary investigator of complaints, which again leaves tremendous power in the hands of IAD. This leaves few true checks and balances in a system funded by taxpayers.

  4. This body is to meet four times a year. (Although they suggested it could meet more often). Again, with the charge that this body should have, they would need to meet much more frequently to perform any kind of meaningful duties. To my knowledge they have met approximately two times to discuss the protocol and training needs so that they are all on the same page. They have not met in any sort of review capacity to this point in time.

My sense after reading the description of this position, that despite Dunning’s assertion that these people would not choose to serve on a committee that was a rubber-stamp, that the charge of the PAC is very weak. Some PAC members have at times privately expressed frustration about this body and its charge, since they know they can bring more to the table. In the ideal, a group like this could serve as a replacement for the IAD. That would give professionals—all three of these guys have law enforcement or legal experience—who are independent of the police department primary jurisdiction over internal investigations.

Short of that admittedly radical step, it would appear that one could give the group much more teeth including the power to audit and conduct investigations of complaints and the process by which complaints are themselves investigated. Moreover, they along with the Police Ombudsman could be the primary body to hear complaints and determine who investigates these complaints.

Once again this appears to be the case of the City Council and City Staff lacking the commitment to put into place actual positions and bodies that have teeth in their ability to investigate police operations. Some have interpreted this critique as a criticism of the police. On the contrary, if these measures are put into place, the police will be much more effective as they will have a much greater amount of trust within the Davis Community.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting