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Friday, September 15, 2006

Davis to Hire Robert Aaronson as Police Ombudsman

Breaking News—According to reliable sources, I have been told that Davis is set to hire Robert Aaronson as the police ombudsman. He is currently the Independent Police Auditor for the City of Santa Cruz.

Info on him and his department can be Info on him and his department can be located at:

My source who has met with him tells me that he thinks he’s a good hire and this is the best opportunity to fill the position with someone who will be dedicated to doing a good job and oversee the operations of the police.

More on this as info becomes available.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A step in the wrong direction

The city council meeting last night featured a number of changes to the structure of the commission system. A number of these changes were fairly technical—standardizing the number of commissioners, standardizing the operational language. But there were some substantive changes as well. The public did not receive notice of this item until Monday morning. Fortunately, Heystek moved to table the motion and the council majority agreed.

“The Subcommittee agreed that, with the addition of a Citizen Advisory Board [CAB] to the Police Chief, a Police Advisory Committee [PAC] to the City Manager, a contract Police Ombudsman for the community and other steps underway in the police department, the Human Relations Commission should focus on issues other than police oversight.”

The problem with this proposal is that it removes the only access the public had to the police oversight process. As council argued, they put in place two bodies the CAB and PAC that will handle oversight issues. However, neither body meets in public.

Council did suggest that the public would always have the opportunity to speak before the HRC on whatever issue they wanted. But this again avoids the central problem: the HRC has no power to act on these concerns. There is now no body in Davis with any kind of power that can listen to public complaints and act on them. The city council by changing the charge of the HRC, has now completely cut off the public from the process of police oversight.

Lack of public input into the process was already a concern during our seven-part series on police oversight. Now there is yet another contact with the public that has been removed. This represents a clear step in the wrong direction.

The good news is that because of the efforts of Lamar Heystek, this issue has not been voted on. There will still be an opportunity for public input and community discussion. The council has shown themselves to be relatively unreceptive to public pressure, so we remain skeptical that this can be changed. At the very least the public needs to understand that the council threatening to cut off public input into the vastly important issue of At the very least the public needs to understand that the council threatening to cut off public input into the vastly important issue of police oversight.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting