Mr. Aaronson is quoted as saying:
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
“The (hit-and-run) case was actually an opportunity to have a community dialogue about the role of law enforcement, the role of community members and the expectations we have of interactions between law enforcement and community,” he said. “That opportunity was missed, to everyone’s detriment.”
Following the Buzayan case, I completely agree with Mr. Aaronson there was a total and complete failure to communicate. I do not think that served the public’s best interest well and I do not think that served law enforcement’s best interest well.
Even now, comments I see in the newspaper and on this blog believe that there is disdain for the police. That is just simply untrue. One can be critical of certain practices and even certain particular police officers without having disdain for the police as a whole.
Some of us simply believe in the constitution. The constitution includes protections for the rights of the accused. It lays out conditions under which people can be searched, detained, questioned, etc. And there is a serious concern when the rights of the accused are violated. That concern is often translated as meaning soft on crime, but in fact, it is a concern that innocent people will have their rights violated. In order to protect the rights of the innocent we must protect the rights of all, because in this country we are theoretically innocent until proven guilty.
Moreover there is an unwritten covenant between the community and its law enforcement. It is a covenant based on trust and communication and when that covenant is stressed or broken, it leads to problems on both sides. We as a nation believe that in our system of government there needs to be checks and balances. In the federal government that means one branches has the power to check the power of another branch. In state and local government, it means that there are bodies and individuals with the power to oversee the operations of governing bodies. When a neutral third party is overseeing the operations of the government, it fosters and reinforces that trust and communication.
That is why many of us last year requested the formation of a citizen’s body to be that overseer. Law enforcement and the city council prefers this current model, of having an expert such as Mr. Aaronson act as that check, and while some of us have other preferences, we would all like to see Mr. Aaronson succeed.
“In dealing with police departments throughout the state, the most common citizen complaint is that an officer was rude, Aaronson said.”
I honestly wish Mr. Aaronson would not have said this. Not because I necessarily think it is untrue, but because I think there are much more serious and more valid complaints than this. What I am concerned with is not whether or not an officer is rude or polite, although I would much rather have a polite and professional officer. I am concerned with the policies that lead to pretense stops and also the rules of engagement for the escalation of police force based on the perception of verbal noncompliance. While I respect Mr. Aaronson, I think his statement makes it too easy for people to be dismissive of what are at times serious and valid complaints about the operations of the police.
The Buzayan case was misinterpreted to be a case based on the demeanor of the officer rather than what are alleged to be serious violations of department policy and state and federal laws.
I was interviewed as well during the course of the interviews for the article that appeared a few weeks ago about the People’s Vanguard of Davis.
“Davis resident David Greenwald runs the People’s Vanguard of Davis blog and has roundly criticized the Davis Police Department’s conduct. He has spoken at length with Aaronson and calls him “an excellent hire.”
He wishes Aaronson had more power to implement investigations and mete out discipline; instead, the ombudsman reviews existing internal investigations and makes nonbinding recommendations.
“(Aaronson) is more of an auditor than an ombudsman,” Greenwald said.”
I spelled a lot of this out in the series about police oversight in Davis. From my conversations with Mr. Aaronson, I think he has a good deal of understanding about what the strengths of the Davis police department are. But he also has a good sense for things that need improvement. My fear is that he really is not in a position where he can recommend changes but does not have the authority to enact changes within the current power structure.
“I expect over the life of his role as ombudsman there will be times he will support the Police Department; other times he will be critical of it,” Pierce said. “I’m open to the ideas and criticisms he has.
“If we’re doing something outside the community’s expectations and Bob tells us we need to change the way we do business, that is something I will certainly take to heart”
The critical test for Mr. Aaronson will be the next time there is a major incident–and maybe his presence alone will prevent something like the Buzayan case or some of the other lesser known but often just as serious cases from the past year. I think a lot of us thought that Former Chief Jim Hyde was going to be an outstanding Police Chief and were stunned by the manner in which he became defensive and shut down communications in the face of scrutiny and criticism of his department.
“After months of observation, Aaronson says a new police chief is the Davis Police Department’s most pressing need.”
The next police chief will make or break this department. If we get a good police chief, we can begin to forge a new covenant between the citizens and the police and we can put the last year behind us. If we get a poor police chief or one that lasts only a few years, then in ten years this will be revisited yet again. The most amazing thing about the events of the last year is that they are not new. If you talk to long-time residents who have been involved in the process something like this occurs every so often, the issue comes up and then it is never resolved and reemerges once again in the future. We need to be able to fix it during times of non-crisis so that we can avoid another incident like we had last year.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting