Police Oversight Just Makes Sense

(Multi-author submission see bottom for full list) – Just as our city’s accountants are not asked to audit their own books, the Davis police department should not be primarily responsible for investigating its own officers. This is just common sense and it shouldn’t be controversial, even if there weren’t an immediate need for such oversight. Unfortunately — as we saw clearly this past Picnic Day — there is, and that makes establishing robust civilian oversight an urgent priority.

Police officers are public officials, therefore it is a matter of public concern whether they are acting in the public interest, particularly when they have the unique state-sanctioned ability to use force on other people.

As many have already said, including Mayor Davis at the July 11th city council meeting, the Davis police department does not treat all of us the same. And while this problem has many causes, it must be acknowledged that in Davis — as in many other places — race is the primary factor in disparities in policing. Whether the problem is due to implicit or explicit bias, systemic problems or a few bad apples, out of touch leadership or community indifference, the situation is unacceptable and remaining silent amounts to a tacit approval of the status quo. All of us have a moral obligation to do something.

The City Council, the Davis Phoenix Coalition, and other community leaders are planning  a series of community forums to allow those most affected to voice their concerns in a safe environment. These forums will also educate Davis residents about the issue and present different oversight systems. While that process unfolds we believe that past efforts suggest a few basic principles that ought to be a part of the solution, most of which are drawn from the 2006 Human Relations Commission report on civilian oversight.

First of all, the complaint process must ensure that the complainant is protected from retaliation by creating an independent submission process to a civilian oversight body. Numerous Davis residents have complaints about the Davis Police department but are reluctant to make these complaints public out of fear for their own well-being. This must change.

Second, the oversight body must be inclusive of communities that bear the brunt of police misconduct. This must be reflected in the makeup of the actual body, the process of appointing voting members, and the public outreach and engagement efforts.

Third, the oversight body must have the authority to initiate investigations and to take meaningful action based on the findings of those investigations. We cannot rely on the police to follow up on complaints or to act on non-binding recommendations from a civilian body. The old police auditor position gave an independent consultant the authority to review internal police investigations but not to initiate their own investigations. This gives the police department control over which complaints get serious attention, how evidence is collected, and how it is reported back to the complainant and the public. The new oversight body must have the authority to respond directly to individual complaints.

Fourth, the oversight body must have the capacity to investigate patterns and practices, not just individual cases.  We need a transparent accountability system reflective of actual police practices in our schools, on our streets, and throughout the community. The nature of racial profiling is such that no single instance is conclusive on its own. Therefore the oversight body must have access to data on traffic stops and other interactions and the ability to take action based on a pattern of complaints.

It is a shame that the 2006 Davis city council members declined to adopt these proposals which were suggested more than ten years ago. Had these proposals been adopted, perhaps we would not be having this discussion today. Our current city council members, unlike their predecessors in 2006, say that they are committed to making substantive changes. We hope they will demonstrate this with their actions as the investigation into the Picnic Day incident continues and that they will be bold advocates for change even in the face of political pressure to do nothing.

Signed by:

Katelynn Bishop

Linda Bresnick

Carolyn Davis

Skylar Downes

Betsy Elzufon

Nancy Erickson

Caitlin French

Teresa Geimer

Connor Gorman

Chris Hawkes

Jen Higley-Chapman

Dillan Horton

Roy Kaplan

William Kelly

Heidi Meier

Kate Mellon-Anibaba

Jann Murray-Garcia

Christopher Myers

Jeff Newbury

Nora Oldwin

Stephanie Parreira

Scott Ragsdale

Arvind Reddy

Al Rojas

Desiree Rojas

Janet Saunders

Carole Standing Elk

Davis People Power



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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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44 thoughts on “Police Oversight Just Makes Sense”

  1. Jim Hoch

    “Just as our city’s accountants are not asked to audit their own books” 

    David, does the city have it’s books audited by social justice warriors or people familiar with accounting?

    1. Keith O

      LOL Jim, I was just wondering the same thing.  If we ever do end up going with some type of police oversight commission I hope the council mans it with people that come from a responsible point of view and not just a bunch of left wing social justice warriors.

      1. David Greenwald

        One thing important to understand here, under California law any police oversight body would have very little access to police records – and in fact no more than any other citizen.

    2. John Hobbs

      “Social justice warrior” is a pejorative. your comment, predictably is intended, to distract and deflect and as such should be excised. I have reported the comment to the immoderate moderator.

  2. Eric Gelber

     I hope the council mans it with people that come from a responsible point of view and not just a bunch of left wing social justice warriors.

    Keith’s observation that so-called social justice warriors are overwhelmingly represented by the progressive left evinces the sad fact that the right has largely refused to acknowledge the existence of social injustice. The right treats social injustice much the way it views climate change–through denial or dismissive ridicule. So, would Jim and Keith have police oversight done by individuals who pejoratively dismiss groups who recognize or have directly experienced injustices as “social justice warriors”?

    1. Keith O

      I simply don’t want our police oversight commission to be made up of people who have their preconceived biased opinions already in place which tends to lean towards cops are bad and must be racists as we find with most social justice warriors.

      Eric, do you find it a problem with the commission being made up of people who will be neutral and look at every situation without bias and base their findings strictly on the facts?

      1. Howard P

        Perhaps the oversight group should be ‘populated’ by engineers, scientists (but not poly sci), mathematicians and the like.   Just a thought… whether any would be interested is another matter…

        1. Howard P

          Please explain, why not?  They, by nature, training, and nurture are inclined to identify problems, analyse them, and try to come up with solutions…

          Guess an engineering background should be immediate reasons for rejection from such a body…

        2. David Greenwald

          When I was in grad school one of my good friends and colleagues in the program was married to an engineer.  Very successful engineer and brilliant in his own way, but very hopeless in coping with a lot of real world political problems.  That kind of sums up my experience.

        1. Keith O

          Did you read where I wrote:

          commission being made up of people who will be neutral and look at every situation without bias and base their findings strictly on the facts

          Can you really come up with an argument against this?

        2. David Greenwald

          I don’t know that there are really people who are neutral.  But more importantly, I’m not sure that’s ideal anyway.  What I would prefer is a mix of people from different backgrounds and perspectives.

        3. David Greenwald

          Part of the problem you have in police encounters is that “facts” are determined in part by perspective that is subjective rather than objective.

          Besides, I’m not sure that a police oversight body is going to have the ability under state law to act in some sort of quasi-judicial capacity.

      2. Eric Gelber

        I don’t know where you find people who have given any thought to the issues who are neutral or without biases. I wouldn’t, for example, want to exclude individuals who have experienced injustices–e.g., a black male who has repeatedly been stopped for driving an expensive car or through upscale neighborhoods. I would look for people representing diverse backgrounds and perspectives. But, yes, I would look for people who, despite their experiences and biases, would hopefully be able to evaluate each situation based on the facts and circumstances.

        1. Howard P

          Eric… smell the coffee… the only ones eligible (in some folk’s belief system) would be those “who have experienced injustices”… that is becoming clear… despite ‘back-pedalling’ by some…

          We should adopt the Australian model… can’t think right off off what that type of court is called… starts with a K… koala?

        2. Eric Gelber

           the only ones eligible (in some folk’s belief system) would be …

          Perhaps, but so what? In some people’s belief system, the only ones eligible are engineers, scientists, and mathematicians. Also, so what?

          As to the Australia model–I’d be skeptical of any model developed by people who spend their lives walking around upside down.

      3. Tia Will

        Keith

        do you find it a problem with the commission being made up of people who will be neutral and look at every situation without bias and base their findings strictly on the facts?”

        I have a corollary question. Are you making the assertion that those on the left are more likely to look at every situation with bias than those on the right ?  If so, I find your suggestion laughable. If not, I apologize for misinterpreting and eagerly await your clarification.

         

  3. Ron

    David:  “Very successful engineer and brilliant in his own way, but very hopeless in coping with a lot of real world political problems.  That kind of sums up my experience.”

    Howard – you’re going to just let that one slide by?  🙂

      1. Ron

        No comment.  🙂

        But, in all seriousness, I don’t see why a profession as an engineer (or – fill in the blank) should preclude participation on such a committee. (Nor do I think that expertise in engineering necessarily precludes the ability to “cope with a lot of real world problems”.) (But again, you were only describing your own limited exposure, I suppose.)

        1. Ron

          Accidentally left out the word “political” problems.

          Regarding “preclude” – yeah, I added that. I took it as somewhat “implied” in your comments, above. For example :

          David: “No offense, but Engineers serve an important purpose, but serving on a police oversight body would not be one of them.”

        2. Ron

          Now that I think about it, are there professions (or former professions) that should “preclude” participation?  (convict, former police officer, prosecutor, defense attorney, full-time rabble-rouser, . . .)

          Perhaps like putting a developer on an environmental committee?

          Just throwin’ it out there, since my earlier comment implied that one’s profession (or – at least their former profession) shouldn’t matter.

           

          1. David Greenwald

            I’m a little troubled by your comment. I actually think (all kidding aside about engineers) that having a good mix is more important to get perspectives on various situations. I understand people’s desire for impartial people, but on the other hand, I think for example purposes only, a lot of white people have not been on the bad end of a police encounter and therefore a person of color who has been might be an important perspective to have on such a body.

          1. David Greenwald

            The irony is that without social justice warriors as you call them, I wonder if we’re even having this conversation or acknowledging the shortcomings of policing.

        3. Keith O

          a lot of white people have not been on the bad end of a police encounter and therefore a person of color who has been might be an important perspective to have on such a body

          David, I can agree with this as long as the committee isn’t overstacked with people who have an axe to grind.  If the committee gets stacked with cop haters and race-baiters I feel much (if not most) of the town won’t pay any attention to their findings.   It will be like ‘here they go again, everything is always about race’.

        4. Ron

          David:  “I’m a little troubled by your comment”.

          See, this is what happens when one tries to stir things up.  (It’s called “instant karma”.) If Howard had only taken the bait, I could have stayed out of it.  🙂

          Actually, though, it sounds like there’s basic agreement among most commenters. 

          Just wondering: Now that I have read the article more carefully, what power (to take “meaningful action”) would they likely have?

           

        5. Howard P

          Ron… actually, David has  a good point on excluding engineers… ask any attorney… extremely rare when defense or prosecution attorneys will seat one on a jury…

          Engineers tend to think for themselves and can generally detach themselves from emotional (or as David points out, political) factors… they make ‘lousy jurors’…

      2. Eric Gelber

         ask any attorney… extremely rare when defense or prosecution attorneys will seat one on a jury…

        Howard – I assume you aren’t an engineer or scientist; otherwise, you wouldn’t make such an unsubstantiated assertion based on anecdotal reports.  Do you have any real data to support either the assertion that engineers are underrepresented on juries compared to other occupations or your hypothesis as to why it might be the case?

        1. Howard P

          As an engineer, was always (except 1ce) removed from the jury pool on a pre-empt challenge… the one case I wasn’t there was a brand-new prosecutor, and I strongly believe that the defense counsel knew the prosecution’s case was weak on some technical matters.  Made it to the questioning four times.

          Other engineers I have known well have shared the same experience.  Some attorneys have told me the same thing.

          No, I have seen no published data, but pre-empts have no reason ‘documented’.  Do you have data showing that jurors, who are engineers, are represented in the same proportion as the population of those called to show up for jury duty?  If so, please share, and we can have a real discussion…

           

        2. Eric Gelber

          No data. I didn’t think so. And now you are doubling down on the anecdotes. No, I don’t have data to the contrary; but I never made such an assertion, one way or the other.

        3. Mark West

          My PI in graduate school had a old textbook he kept in his office specifically for when he was called for jury duty. It had a title that could be clearly read from across the room and he made a point of reading the book while waiting to be called on and holding it in front such that the title was obvious during questioning. He had a multi-year history of being rejected from jury duty.

        4. Howard P

          Yes, but four of those anecdotes are personal experience based.  I trust my own experiences, although I can see where you wouldn’t… fine. No problem.

          But do not presume to tell me about the validity of my experiences.

        5. Eric Gelber

          I don’t know where I questioned the validity of your experiences. I questioned your sweeping, unsubstantiated generalizations about jury selection criteria and preferences related to a particular occupation.

  4. Tia Will

    Keith

    Would you feel the same way if the committee were “overstacked” with individuals who essentially feel that when a cop chooses an action it must be right because the police are, in their minds, an extension of the law. And please do not say these folks do not exist, because I come from such a family and know many.

  5. Tia Will

    Basically I stand with David on this one. I think diversity of experience is the best way to ensure that bias can be avoided as much as possible. I would also like to see a process designed to build consensus with dissenting opinions expressed in case consensus cannot be achieved.

  6. Tia Will

    Keith

    Where did I say to stack the committee with people from the right?”

    Nice deflection.  I did not claim you said it. I asked if you would feel the same way.  You could either answer the question directly, or I can conclude ( rightly or wrongly) that your deflection is your answer, which is in itself fairly strong evidence of how you would feel.

     

    1. Keith O

      Oh please, read my posts to David, you’ll get your answer.  Quit trying, as you often do, to imply what someone else feels.

      We live in the People’s Republic of Davis, there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that any such committee will ever get stacked with conservatives.

      But in turn there’s huge odds that it could get stacked entirely with left wing social justice warriors.

  7. Michael Bisch

    Seriously? Do we really need to argue, whether on this thread or today’s other social justice thread, whether diversity & inclusiveness are good qualities to have (and to actively promote) in our community’s governance and policy making? Sheesh!

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