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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Acting Police Chief Steve Pierce Misses the Point

In an article by Claire St. John in yesterday's Davis Enterprise, she quotes David Greenwald, husband of the former chair of the HRC:

Handling allegations of police misconduct would be removed from the HRC's mission statement, Asmundson and Souza said, because the formation of the Police Advisory Committee, the Community Advisory Board and an ombudsman position will serve that purpose.

David Greenwald, husband of former HRC chairwoman Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, questioned where people will turn.

"As I understand it, neither the PAC nor the CAB are open to the public," he said.

People can still come during the HRC's public comment to make statements about alleged police wrongdoing, Asmundson responded.

This morning, Greenwald found that solution troubling.

"The problem with that is that the HRC could not act," he said. "So there would be no public body that the citizens could go to that could hear their complaint and actually act on it."
Steve Pierce however claims that there is a venue for such complaints...
Interim Police Chief Steve Pierce this morning said the ombudsman position, which is still open, will serve that purpose.
Either Pierce is flatout wrong or he's missing the point. As we have reported in our series on police oversight, city staff themselves acknowledge the lack of community outreach incorporated into this model of oversight. “Another downside to the contract police ombudsman function is that it is not structured to allow for much public outreach to the community.” (See Page 11 of the May 2 agenda report on the ombudsman).

The concern here is that the public has no public forum with which to take their complaints. Neither the Community Advisory Board nor the Police Advisory Commission are public meetings. Therefore neither of them serve the purpose formerly served by the HRC.

The Police Ombudsman does take in complaints, but again this is not a public body that will take the place of the role that the HRC served. Pierce is correct that citizens will have the opportunity to file complaints with the ombudsman, but that is something the HRC never had formal jurisdiction over to begin with. Instead the HRC served as a public means by which members of the public could publicly air their complaints and have a forum to have them heard and perhaps investigated. The former part of their function has now been supplanted by a much more private and formal mechanism.

It seems clear that neither the City Council nor the police chief fully understand the importance of having a public forum where these issues can be raised.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting