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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Part VII: Alternative Models of Oversight

This is the final installment in the seven part series.

I’ve spent the last six entries discussing the weaknesses and problems that the current Davis Ombudsman Ordinance faces. During the course of that discussion were some implicit and explicit suggestions for improvement. This final installment will put together a number of those suggestions into a final proposal.

Alternative Ombudsman Models:

Santa Cruz Model: This is very similar to the model that the current council has adopted and it seems to be one of the weaker models. “A complaint may be filed if you have concerns about specific Police conduct or actions. If a complaint is filed, it is forwarded to the Professional Standards Unit and a supervisor will be assigned to conduct a formal investigation. The final investigation is forwarded to the Police Auditor for review. The investigation is reviewed for thoroughness, objectivity and to insure that the evidence supported the finding.” In other words, the auditor, as they do in Davis, merely reviews the investigation rather than conducts the investigation.

San Jose Model: In this model the internal affairs division does the primary investigation just as the current Davis model provides, however, the Independent Police Auditor “monitors and reviews all stages of the complaint process from intake through final disposition of the complaint. One of the most critical stages of the investigation of Formal complaints is to ensure that officers accused of misconduct are interviewed objectively and thoroughly. The IPA participates directly in many of the officer interviews to ensure that this goal is achieved.” Here, the IAD does the primary investigation just as it does in Davis, however where it differs from the Davis Ombudsman is that the IPA monitors each step of the process, sitting in on interviews and ensuring throughout that the investigation is thorough and objective. That would be a great step up over the current law where the Ombudsman only comes into play at the conclusion of the initial investigation.

Boise Model: Boise has an even stronger model, providing flexibility as to who conducts the primary investigation. “The Community Ombudsman has primary responsibility for the investigation and case management of all complaints filed with the Office of the Community Ombudsman… Investigations, as determined by the Community Ombudsman, may be performed by …” any number of law enforcement agencies or by the Ombudsman themselves. “In determining the most appropriate assignment of a complaint for investigation, the Community Ombudsman will consider the following factors: (1) The wishes of the complainant, particularly any expressed fears or anxiety about interacting with the police during the investigation…” This model would seem to enable the complainant uncomfortable with the police doing the primary investigation to opt for other bodies. The advantage of this model is that it gives the complainant a choice as to who conducts the initial investigation and allows for an independent body to investigate rather than the police investigating the police.

There have been a number of proposals for a civilian review board. A civilian review board is generally composed of a professional investigator, who would fulfill the primary tasks that an Ombudsman or Auditor would fill, and there would be a body of appointed citizens who would hear complaints from the public and recommend investigations. That investigation would be carried out by the investigator and presented in public meetings to the review board who could then make recommendations.

A civilian review board would be a good ultimate goal for this community, but it seems clear that a good deal of the community right now and the police are not receptive to the ideal of civilian oversight.

As such, here are several recommendations made based on the examination of the current model and current problems.

  1. Strengthen the Ombudsman position by making it a full-time position. As we’ve seen, the City Manager has had difficulty finding a qualified person to take a part-time position and it seems clear at this point that the city needs a full-time position. In the future, we might be able to cut back on that as department practices adjust to avoid continued complaints and adverse findings.
  2. Give the Ombudsman a stronger role in the initial investigation. Both the San Jose and Boise models would accomplish that. The San Jose model would be a less drastic change but it would have a great impact simply allowing the ombudsman to monitor and participate in the entire investigation. The Boise model would change who conducts the primary investigation.
  3. Strengthen the PAC by using it to replace the Internal Affairs Department. This is drastic, but it seems very clear that the IAD cannot police or even properly investigate complaints against the police. The PAC is made up of legal professionals, a retired police chief and two attorneys. These are not amateurs. The current model puts them as mere observers; this change would put them into the forefront of the investigation.
  4. Strengthen the CAB by giving it specific advisory authority. Right now the CAB is not being used as a Community Advisory group. It needs to be given specific charges to advise the police on specific department policy.
  5. Improve Community Outreach. There needs to be forums for the public to participate to express concerns. Some of this happens already. However, in order for this to work properly, the department needs to go into the minority communities and actually interact with segments of the public who feel aggrieved in the current climate—that includes students, the African-American, Muslim-American, and Mexican-American communities.
  6. Improve Representation on the Boards. Find a way to get diverse opinions on these boards. Find students not heavily involved in student government. Find minority students. Find people who represent youth. Find representatives from the minority communities who may not support current polices. Give the public a true forum by which to express their views. And make the CAB meetings, public meeting.
  7. Re-instate the Human Relations Commission. When the City Council shut down the HRC, it shutdown the most effective body to register dissatisfaction with current system. By removing its membership, the Council chilled the possibility of a future Commission that would heavily voice its dissent of Council goals. That creates a very dangerous precedent for future interactions.
---Doug Paul Davis Reporting