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Monday, August 28, 2006

Part V: CAB: Representing the Community?

The following is part five in our series looking at police oversight in Davis. In addition to the PAC, the City Manager and the Police Chief have created a Citizen’s Advisory Board.

An advisory board of 12 people representing a cross-section of the community based on neighborhoods, businesses, schools, religion, race, gender, and other factors was formed the last quarter of 2005. The members are selected by the Police Chief with the City Manager’s approval. This board meets with the Chief on a monthly basis to provide input to the department regarding constituent concerns. Additionally, the CAB members will take information away from the police department back into the community. This Board has broad public representation and input into the police department. Most importantly, CAB opens and sustains on-going dialogue with key members of the community on issues of mutual concern. (Source: )

The goal of this body would seem to be relay constituent concerns to the police. From descriptions from some of the members it has generally been used to present information to the members of the board, rather than used in any sort of advisory capacity. Generally they have provided information about crime statistics and new programs that the police have implemented. It is less about solving problems within the police department and more about receiving information about the police department. I do not want to disparage this, because the people involved I have spoken to have found it useful. But we should not be under the illusion that this body is currently being used for any sort of critical inspection of the operations of the police department.

The question is about how representative of the diverse community is this body. And in some ways, it appears to be very diverse. You have people from various communities involved. Shelly Bailes, a gay/ lesbian activist is a member, Hamza Al-Nakal, a member of the Muslim community is a member, Carlos Matos, a prominent Latino, Calvin Handy an African-American former UC Davis Police Chief, representatives of the business community, and even two students are there. One thing you will notice though is that those involved in this group tend to be supporters of the current majority on the council. There are some exceptions, but that seems to be the case. But, that’s not surprising.

There is one issue involving the CAB that is of particular concern. And this extends beyond the CAB itself to include the UC Davis-Davis Police Liaison Committee. My concern comes from observing the largely minority student march on the Davis Police Station in late May. There were somewhere between 100-200 minority students. And let me tell you, if you have been a long time resident of Davis, the number of minorities, particularly African-Americans in this crowd was surprising in and of itself.

What particularly struck me that day was the level of anger I saw in the marchers. The level of frustration seemed to be at a boiling point. And a big problem was the lack of legitimate channels of communication open between these students and the police department but also city government in general. No fewer than 20 students came forward in a two hour protest outside of the police station following the two mile plus march and talked about their experiences with the police. Very naked and raw stories about being pulled over on very little pretense, asked if they were in a gang or on probation. They were asked routinely if they were from Sacramento or Oakland. Finally, they were released. Almost none of them received any sort of citation and almost none of them were accused of breaking any laws. For some this happened multiple times—to the point where some refuse to drive in Davis because they do not want to deal with this police.

The reputation of Davis for minority students is absolutely horrendous. There are almost two separate types of complaints about the Davis Police. One is the excessive force, violation of rights and procedures, and general intimidation. The other is the racial profiling. They’ve been lumped together at times, but in many ways, they are different and need to be addressed differently.

The police refused to have a spokesperson even talk with the students. A number of officers stood behind the glass, practically jeering and taunting the students. It would have been a marvelous gesture on the part of the police to send someone out there and try to have a dialogue with these obviously frustrated students. The organizer for this march tried on a number of occasions to meet with the Police Chief or Assistant Chief and was rebuffed.

But the other thing that struck me was to compare the students at this march to the students traditionally involved with student government. Those are the students now sitting on the CAB and on the Liaison Committee. And these students are not represented in this process.

Why is this omission important? Because there is no one on these committees that has gone through the experience of being pulled over for no apparent reason other than to ask questions to ascertain whether or not this is a criminal or someone dangerous. There is no legitimate reason to believe that this person is a criminal or someone dangerous other than the color of their skin. There is no one on any of these boards that can personally relay that to the police. And the police have refused to engage on this issue.

More alarming are stories I have heard relayed to me that indicate that otherwise liberal and progressive individuals are either oblivious to this problem or support these policies. A story was told to me that a woman, a self-described progressive, did not have a problem with racial profiling. That her primary concern was rising crime and she wanted to stop it at all costs. She was asked, if a black person committed a crime in Davis, should every black person be pulled over in an attempt to catch the criminal. Her response was yes. When pushed on it, she said, she didn’t care, all she wanted to do was stop the crime, she did not care how they did it or whether people’s rights were violated.

I find this not only alarming, but emblematic of the attitude of the Davis populace. There is probably only a 15 percent segment of the population that has had problems with the police, but this problem has gone on for years, and unless there is a way to get these communities represented on the CAB, the problem is going to continue. As presently composed, the CAB fails to address the fundamental problems that are going on in this community. I will warn you, watching these students in May, things were near a boiling point. Unfortunately, it may take a major incident to alert the general public to the treatment that a sizeable segment of the population faces each day.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting