Commentary: Council Cuts To Police Oversight Put Community At Risk

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landy_blackWas it really just three years ago that the city of Davis was on the brink?  The city was making regional even national news in a bad way.  The case of young Halema Buzayan punctuating a string of complaints against the Davis Police Department. 

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.

The problem with this case is that it never should have gone to the point it went.  With a better response from the police department and the city, it probably would not have.  But the handling by then Police Chief Jim Hyde turned what should have been a minor case (no pun intended) into a case that ended up in major newspapers and television stations across the region.

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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 thoughts on “Commentary: Council Cuts To Police Oversight Put Community At Risk”

  1. Anon

    The City Council is nickeling and diming budget cuts, so they don’t have to make the really necessary budgetary reforms, such as employee compensation and benefits. Tougher times are ahead, and the nickel and diming method will not work. I suspect layoffs of more city employees are in store…probably more program cuts too. What you won’t see is any major concessions in regard to salaries and benefits of city employees, no real structural reform. We need to get rid of the City Council majority in the next election cycle and the one after that…

  2. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]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.[/quote]The problem is that there is a different city department whose leadership does not appreciate Bob Aaronson’s work. And because some members of the city council have taken huge amounts of money from employees of that department, it appears (even if it is not the case) that those councilmembers were once again paying off their contributors by punishing Aaronson for his rebuke of how their department is run. Now, if we had a reasonable ethics law* for the City of Davis which prohibited any members of the council from voting on issues, like this one, which affect the people who gave them money for their campaigns, the vote on the ombudsman budget would have gone the other way.

    Off-thread but police related: Was anyone in East Davis this morning when about 20 cops surrounded a house at the corner of Pole Line and Covell? I passed by as the cops were scrambling, but decided it unwise to stick around. I wonder what was going on? Anyone know?

    * As it is, our ethics law (put on Davis by the state of California in this respect) prohibits a councilmember from voting on a zoning change for a property 500 feet from his/her property, even when the zoning change, objectively, would have no effect whatsoever on that member’s property value. Yet if another member of the council, who lives miles away, took maximum campaign contributions from the person requesting the zoning change, that member, despite having a face-value conflict of interest, gets to vote on the issue. Crazy sh!t.

  3. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]The City Council is nickeling and diming budget cuts, so they don’t have to make the really necessary budgetary reforms, such as employee compensation and benefits. [/quote]To be fair, we have not yet seen the new contracts. We don’t know what reforms, if any, will be included in them. The bulk of the contracts expire next Wednesday. (One contract has been out of date for 12 mnths.) I don’t expect the new MOUs will be ready on time*. But I am hopeful that when the new contracts are published, they will include a wide range of improvements over the previous deals.

    * In the interim, barring the city council declaring an impasse, something no one expects to happen any time soon, the old contracts at the same wages and benefits and other terms will continue. If the council does declare an impasse, then it [i]could[/i] be possible under state law to impose new terms from the city’s last and best offer.

  4. City Council listen up

    City Council:

    Hands off the police officer positions. We need a safe community and while you are filling the pockets of firefighters our city is suffering.

    Pull your heads out of the sand, or somewhere else, and stop making decisions that are making our city less safe and less accountable.

    Don Saylor: You will not have my vote for council or any other position that you seek. The same holds true for Steve Souza. We need some good leadership and you two have not provided it.

  5. Anon

    “To be fair, we have not yet seen the new contracts.”

    No, but we can make a pretty educated guess that the new contracts will not be what they should be – a 5% across the board cut in salary, as Lamar suggested.

  6. Rich Rifkin

    I don’t think a 5% across the board cut in salary is the right approach. I think we should make adjustments based on the increases in salary each employee category has received since 2005. Not every city employee had his salary increase by the same amount. Thus, not every employee is in the same position to accept a 5% pay cut.

    My suggestion, [i]if any wages have to be reduced[/i], would be to cut out 20% of the wage increase a job category got over the last 4 years. If a job paid $100,000 four years ago and now pays $136,000, then cut that person’s wage by 20% of $36,000 ($7,200), which is a 5.3% wage cut. If a different job had a salary increase over the last four years from $100,000 to $116,000 (16%), cut it by $3,200 (20% of $16,000), amounting to a 2.8% wage cut.

    Below are some examples in how much each city salary has inflated over the last four years:

    [b]Firefighter: 36%[/b]
    Police Officer*: 30%
    WWPT Lead Operator: 29%
    WWTP Supervisor: 29%
    Equip. Mechanic: 23%
    Exec. Mgmt: 22%
    Admin Analyst II: 21%
    Dept. Heads**: 18%
    Police Dispatcher*: 18%
    Electrician: 17%
    Asst. Engineer: 16%

    Note 1: the percentage figures are compounded totals. If you add, for example, the last four annual wage hikes of the firefighters (10%, 8%, 8% and 6%), you will come up with 32%. But the wage hikes are on top of each other. Thus, you need to multiply: 100 x 1.10 x 1.08 x 1.08 x 1.06 = 136 (meaning a 36% wage increase over the period).

    Note 2: While the MOUs differentiate between a market adjustment and a COLA in each wage increase, those two components are additive. It makes no difference mathematically whether you call an increase a COLA or a market adjustment. For example, in 2006, all sworn Davis police officers got a 9% wage hike. In their MOU, it shows a 6% market adjustment plus a 3% COLA.

    * Includes 2005-06 wage increase from previous contract.

    **Includes: Assistant City Manager, Community Development Director, Finance Director, Fire Chief, Parks & Community Services Director, Police Chief, and Public Works Director. Their deal ended 1 year ago, and thus none have received a wage increase since.

  7. rick entrikin

    Rich: Think you’re on the right track, but WAY too lenient on salary & benefit reductions. You obviously did your homework, what with all the detailed salary figures.

    HOWEVER, I don’t think we should be skirting around the edges by cutting bits & pieces from already-approved salary increases. Instead, I favor an across-the-board 10% salary DECREASE for all workers making $100,000 or more in base salary, 7.5% decrease for all workers making $60,000 to $99,999, and 3% decrease for all employees making $49,999 or less.

    Crunch those numbers, and I believe our “deficit” will disappear. Also,this scenario would allow us to retain all of our police officers and City workers “in the trenches,” without a single lay-off.

    I am amazed that the Council & labor groups just can’t agree to make “across the board” cuts to protect lower-level workers’ jobs and avoid reductions to our police force.

    In my opinion, any greedy employee who would rather have a salary increase during these dire economic times, instead of taking a reduction to save someone else’s job, does not belong in Davis – and is CERTAINLY NOT a public “servant.”

    I say, “play ball” as a team-member of our community or just pack up and leave. The best way for the Council to determine who is worthy to work for our City is to play “hard-ball” and lay down the law on salaries & benefits. (The losers will leave, but many will line up to replace them.)

  8. Rich Rifkin

    Rick, my view is, Davis needs to determine what its long-term revenue trajectory is most likely to be. If that is 3.5% growth in revenues*, then all compensation paid to city workers should fit within that umbrella. In other words, the long-term rate of increase for salaries, benefits, pensions costs, other retiree liabilities and so on should be capped at our revenue’s long-term growth rate. If we have a few years in good times when revenues are growing at 6-10%, don’t give away the store with unsustainable contracts. Then, when a recession inevitably comes and revenues contract by 5-10%, the City will be able to afford its labor and other costs.

    *The CPI for our region has been around 3.1% +/- for the last decade. Barring any large new developments (or housing bubbles or tax increases) which bring in much greater revenues to Davis, it is normal that the long-term revenue to the city will grow somewhere around the rate of general inflation, but not evenly so. Some years the revenues will increase much faster; others much slower.

  9. earoberts

    Rick and Rich – both make good points. I like Rick’s idea of tiered salary cuts based on amount of income. I also like Rich’s idea of saving some of the money from good times to weather the hard times. Too bad the CC doesn’t see the sense to any of this!

  10. q

    “She had been in a serious accident and was disabled but able to drive.” That sounds scary. If she could not even pump her own gas, how in the world does she manage to safely operate a 2,000 pound motor vehicle? Let’s just say I would not want to be on the same road as her! And by the way, there are exceptions to that law. It’s not black and white as you make it out to be.

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