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Friday, October 13, 2006

CAB Meetings to Stay out of Public Light

The majority City Council moved to change the purview of the Davis Human Relations Commission (HRC) citing that the HRC no longer needs to concern themselves with police issues since council has created a Community Advisory Board (among other bodies such as the Police Advisory Committee and the Ombudsman) to serve that purpose.

The following is the description from the city website on the CAB functions:
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.
While the board may have "broad public representation" and it may open and sustain "on-going dialogue," it also meets in private. There has been increasing discussion that with the removal of the police issue from the HRC, the CAB needs to take on a more public role. Councilmember Heystek raised this issue at the September 19, 2006 Council Meeting.

And according to the posting by Chair Steven Worker on the Davis Wiki, this was an item of discussion at the last CAB meeting.
The CAB process was discussed and there was agreement that meetings needed agendas (pre-meeting) and notes (post-meeting). There was discussion that these might be posted on the DPD website. It was felt that guests could be invited by CAB members, but the CAB would not be a place to hear complaints about specific incidents , but rather discuss overall themes and issues.
This is a troubling policy statement for two reasons. First of all, you have a body that is meeting and advising on policy decisions that is not open to the public except by invitation.

Second, the public once again has no public venue in which to air their concerns about police practices except for the City Council Meetings. The Police Chief has suggested that that is the role of the ombudsman, but that forces people to take formal action every time they need to air their grievances. Moreover and troubling is the fact that without public scrutiny there can be no public pressure to change policies. John Burris in his book, "Black and White," cites the fact that even when Police Departments are found to have committed acts of misconduct, the lack of public scrutiny often means that the practices continue and policies remain unchanged. This occurs despite millions of dollars in settlements paid in civil lawsuits and sustained complaints against specific officers. Lack of public awareness means that poor training and other factors can continue despite lawsuits and complaints.

This current arrangement with lack of public hearings is clearly by design. The City Council was not happy with the way things went last year with the Davis Human Relations Commission and they somehow believe that they can handle this problem better by removing it from the public realm.

This approach seems problematic at best. There remains a sizable number of people within this community who are very concerned about the police issue and the conduct of the Davis police department. By forcing this issue largely out of the public realm, these problems will not go away and in fact they may fester beneath the surface. If anything the situation could become more volatile without any sort of pressure release valve provided by bodies such as the Davis Human Relations Commission over the last 20 years.

The Police Ombudsman Robert Aaronson is a good hire and a good person, but most of his duties and reports will be not made public (and there are good reasons for this). It is very concerning that there is no public access now on this issue.

(For further information on the CAB I recommend you read the segment in our Police Oversight Series on the CAB)

---Doug Paul Davis reporting