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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Police are leaving Davis

As I waited at the police station with a neighbor of mine who had just had her laptop stolen along with some cash from her home, we fell into an inevitable conversation about how short-handed the police are. This is one of the claims that opponents of police oversight were making that I never quite bought, yet turned out to be quite true.
  • 2005-2006 - 12 officers
  • 2004-2005 - 6 officers
  • 2003-2004 - 3 officers
  • 2002-2003 - 5 officers
  • 2001-2002 - 7 officers
That's information supplied by the county clerk's office to one of our confederates. As you can see, the number of officers who left this past year is significantly higher than the previous four years. Without going into statistical discussions, it would appear something unusual is going on. Our first thought settled on the amount of relative pay that Davis offers and that has been a concern, although the new MOU provides a healthy pay hike that with benefits brings the amount of money near 100K. This for people with largely high school educations. There's also the ridiculous cost of housing that the city needs to address as does the university--somehow they need to be able to provide housing for their employees because the majority do not live in Davis itself, that is a problem.

The kicker in this discussion is that as we're talking a guy sitting in the lounge informs us it was the HRC that was the reason for some of the police leaving Davis. He goes on to tell us his cousin did not want to "work under the commission." He said he transferred to Fairfield. Then he looks at us in a very frank tone and said that he doesn't understand that logic at all. He'd rather deal with some commission than have people shooting at you like they do in Fairfield.

This reminds us of a conversation that occurred with Bob Dunning of the Davis Enterprise. In his column he suggested that Davis would top the worst place for cops to live. The choice between dealing with getting shot to death and dealing with the former chair seemed like an easy decision. Dunning agreed: "Agreed. Just sticking the needle a bit. Then again, the chief did leave for a higher crime city." Then again Bob, the police chief doesn't generally get shot at.

However the glib exchange with Dunning not withstanding, I'm beginning to believe that somehow we were wrong. That in fact, cops would rather be shot at than face oversight.

It goes past that though. The Human Relations Commission was largely marginalized by the efforts of the police and the majority on the city council. The HRC did not have the majority in council in support of their agenda. The majority on council opposed it strongly and heavily favored the police. The HRC was finally removed in late June, but that move was in the works for five months--the Police Chief had to know that.

None of this makes a great deal of sense to us. What exactly was the police chief afraid of? What exactly caused 12 officers to transfer to over jurisdictions? The threat of oversight? The fear of scrutiny and criticism? Were they afraid that they would be caught up in a legal issue? None of these issues of endemic merely to Davis.

The problem that Davis faces was apparent when we finally went in to see the officer to make the report. The officer was a young guy, looked like he could not be 30 yet. And yet he already seemed jaded, fatiqued, and burnt out. It was almost sad watching him operate. This is our future in this great community?

I do not know where this will go but it is obvious that the police need strong leadership and advocacy that they are not getting. And they also need to not give in to paranoia. The likely affect of any oversight system is very small on an officer. If one does nothing wrong, one need not worry about the system. Is that what they tell us?

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

thanks to Henry Bianco for some of the information...