For those not familiar with that case, it should have been a simple case. The then 16-year-old Buzayan was arrested in June of 2005 for an alleged hit-and-run. Whether or not the teen was driving the vehicle or the vehicle made contact with the other car are in doubt. What is not in doubt was a decision to go into the family’s home at night and arrest the girl in her pajama’s. The family then alleged a series of civil rights violations followed from that point in time, the most serious the allegation that the officer involved ignored pleas for an attorney. That case is still pending before federal court. It is moving slowly but depositions have or will shortly begin.
From there things escalated. By June of 2006 a string of events played out. The Davis Human Relations Commission at that time was headed by my wife, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald. They were blamed for inciting the situation. My wife would claim she was advocating for the family and trying to bring about meaningful reform to city hall through police oversight.
And while she and the commission advocated for civilian police oversight, the city forced to respond to the growing heat put into place a complex apparatus to oversee the operations of the police department which included a professional who would be able to review and investigate complaints against the police department, the ombudsman. It would also create a body called the Police Advisory Commission (PAC) that would audit and review all internal complaints.
This was already in the works in June of 2006 when Chief Jim Hyde abruptly (or so it seemed) resigned to take a higher paying position with the Antioch Police Department. Instead of simply leaving quietly, he left with a long email that placed the blame on my wife and the Human Relations Commission.
That gave council the opening to do what they had really wanted to do since January. They disbanded the Human Relations Commission, stripped it of most of its power, and put new membership in place by the time it was re-constituted a few months later.
What we now know from a series of incidents in Antioch and a recent magazine article is that part of the problem was Chief Jim Hyde himself. Before the Vanguard even existed, one of my first in a string of now infamous public records requests for emails from Chief Hyde and his staff, showed a concerted effort by Chief Hyde and now recently retired Lt. Dorothy Pearson to mobilize dissent within the community against the efforts of Cecilia and the HRC. Chief Hyde has shown his true colors so to speak with a pretty derogatory magazine article last month depicting Davis’ police department as unprofessional–likening it to Reno 911.
Whatever view on wants to take with what happened in 2006, what is clear is that under the leadership of new Chief Landy Black since his hiring in Spring of 2007, the hiring of Ombudsman Bob Aaronson in the fall of 2006, the perception of the department and its relationship with the community has improved by a good margin.
One recent event that was not publicized illustrates the professionalism of Chief Black. I had a friend and former colleague of mine from Graduate School who still lives in Davis contact me. She had been in a serious accident and was disabled but able to drive. However, pumping gas was a real problem. Well at a station in Davis, she asked the attendant to help her and he refused. An officer was there, told her he didn’t have to help her, but after some time, and some rudeness, eventually did assist her.
It turns out there is a state law requiring the attendant to assist and if he does not, it is enforceable according to this law by the local law enforcement. When first contacted Chief Black was apologetic but unaware of the law. Within a day, he had looked it up, found there was indeed a law, had his assistant Chief Steve Pierce apologize to the individual.
But Chief Black went well beyond that. He added the issue and law to his training manual so that all of his officers would be aware of that. Moreover, he also sent a memo to a statewide organization so they could add it to their training. My friend was grateful for the efforts and Chief Black turned a potential negative situation into a very positive one.
What was not a major incident except for my friend was handled in a respectful, compassionate, and professional manner and it embodies this new chief.
I say all of this to illustrate that I believe that Chief Black has made a huge difference in the way at least the community views the police department. But I am now very concerned that the Davis City Council is taking this for granted.
On Tuesday, by a 3-2 vote they refused to restore the Police’s Professional Standards Sergeant. That is the individual who is in charge of conducting internal investigations when a citizen makes a complaint. As Chief Black pointed out on Tuesday, in terms of how his department will operate, it will not change anything. But he views the position as vital to having good community relations. This is the way that he can help foster and continue that trust in the Davis Police Department. He told me that while he was glad that the council considered this position a high priority, he was disappointed at the same time that while the city took an additional $400,000 from employee compensation, they only restored $120,000 in cuts.
To make matters worse, they also took $10,000 from the Ombudsman’s $60,000 salary. The suggestion was made that the Ombudsman, Mr. Bob Aaronson had offered to take the pay cut and would continue his current service level. From our understanding that may not be exactly true.
However, here is an important point. In 2006, the HRC was pushing for a civilian review board to look into police matters. The council did not go along with that recommendation and created the Ombudsman position. At that time, even accepting that position was done somewhat grudgingly by the Council and only because the heat put on it by the HRC and segments of the community.
Three years later however, Chief Black, the rank and file in the police, the union leadership have all come to respect the work and service that Mr. Aaronson performs. They have come to view his position as invaluable to the department and have all actively lobbied council when budget cuts came around to continue the position and to keep Mr. Aaronson there.
That alone demonstrates how far things have come in just three years. While I doubt things will go back to where they were in 2006 under the leadership of Chief Black, I do wonder why the council given where things were three years ago would want to jeopardize the relative calm and peace in the community by de-funding the Professional Standards Sergeant and cutting back on the Ombudsman Position.
There are times when saving money in one respect can cost you a lot in another respect. I think that is the case here. Why would we jeopardize all of the progress we have made in the last three years.
Reasonable people can disagree on the course of events that occurred in 2006. I think very few will not argue that things are completely better under Chief Black. For those who wish to argue that it is simply a matter of them disbanding the Human Relations Commission–I could not disagree more.
In a lot of ways, the Vanguard was created in July of 2006 in order to take the place in a very public way of the HRC. The Vanguard has the ability to investigate and raise issues that arise in the community. As time as gone on, I have received fewer and fewer complaints about the police. That is not to say the department is perfect. No department run by human beings can be. But what I have found is that one does not have to be perfect, only willing to take a step to respect the people of the community and try to do things better the next time. And for that, I think we are far better off from where we were three years ago.
I just hope this is not the first step toward going back on that progress.
—David M. Greenwald reporting