The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Friday, February 16, 2007

Report on Police Oversight Coming at Tuesday’s City Council Meeting

A review of the police oversight bodies will occur this coming Tuesday. That will include a report from the Ombudsman Bob Aaronson. Mr. Aaronson was hired in September, so he has been on the job less than six months. There will also be a report from the Police Advisory Committee (PAC) and the Community Advisory Board (CAB).

As an aside, when I spoke to Bill Emlen on Tuesday, he indicated that a decision on the new police chief would be made by today. It will be interesting to see if that does indeed happen.

Today, I will once again briefly discuss the Community Advisory Board. Its mission reads:

“Using two way communications, improve relationships between the public and the police. To actively represent the community by articulating, advising and tracking community and police issues.”

Moreover the official purpose is:

“This board meets with the Police Chief on a monthly basis to provide input to the Chief regarding constituent concerns.”

And yet it is ironic that a body created to improve relationships between the public and the police has meetings that “are not open to the public.” How does a private body meeting with the police chief improve relations between the public and the police?

Moreover, the composition of this body also must be in question. On paper this appears to be a diverse group of individuals, but one striking facet jumps out at us, with the exception of one member, there are no critics of the police on this board.

So you have a body that meets in private and which is composed of individuals who have generally been supportive of the police and that is the body that is suppose to improve constituent-police relations.

In the coming week or so, I will be interviewing some of the members of this body. One question that I will ask is the same question I asked last year at this time. What is this group actually doing? A year ago, it was listening to the Chief of Police Jim Hyde tell them about crime patterns in the community and also listening discussions regarding new programs and technologies being used by the department in police cars.

Furthermore, it will be interesting to hear an update on the state of new technologies in the police cars. One problem that surfaced this year was the inoperation of the in-car recording system. There has been a suggestion that that is now fixed. Another problem has been with the in-car computer system and the inability for police cars to know exactly where another unit is and what they are doing.

My general belief though is that the oversight of the police needs to have at least one public component. There is a case to be made for some of the bodies to meet in private to discuss some of these matters. But look at the mission statement for the CAB again. How does the police receive input on constituent concerns unless they are hearing from ALL of the citizens? Not just the people on the committee. Not just the people who are supportive of the operations of the police. Not just the people who have supported the majority on council—but the people who have been the most vocal in their complaints about some of the police operations and some of the operations of the police.

To me this is a no-brainer. And yet, to the majority on the city council - and it appears the staff at city hall- believe there needs to be the ability to meet behind closed doors. I just wonder if the police chief is getting the kind of information he needs from this kind of body. I hope if the city hires Captain Landy Black, he too will re-examine the function and composition of this body and determine if a more open and transparent system would serve his needs and the needs of this community better. It would serve to further regain the trust of the community that has been lost.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting