Commentary: Inexplicable Delays Will Leave Davis without Police Oversight for Months

Davis Police Car

When Bob Aaronson let city officials know in March that he would not be renewing his contract as police auditor, he timed it so that the city would have time to do a search process for his replacement.  That would allow the city to potentially have a new auditor in place by July after Mr. Aaronson’s contract expired on June 30.

Unfortunately, that is not what has happened.  It took Councilmember Rochelle Swanson and Mayor Robb Davis to push the city manager to agendize a general discussion on police oversight, including a recommendation from the Human Relations Commission for a civilian review board and a council public safety subcommittee that could evaluate complaints.

But whatever the council adopts, the centerpiece of police oversight will remain the office of the independent police auditor.

On Tuesday, City Manager Dirk Brazil noted that the auditor’s contract is in the budget, and “when we pass the budget, we’ll put out an RFP.”

But that timing represents a problem – a big problem for police oversight in Davis.  It means that Davis won’t even put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) now until after the position is vacated.

In 2006, when the city hired Mr. Aaronson, they put out an RFP in June and ended up announcing his hire on September 16, 2006.  That process took about three months.  Three months for a July RFP puts us into October.

That might be a best case scenario.  Given the few qualified individuals, it may take considerably longer to fill the position than just three months.  But, even in that scenario, it means that Davis will effectively not have had police oversight in place since at least April – when the Picnic Day event occurred.

The city made the decision following the Picnic Day event not to utilize the police auditor to conduct an independent investigation.

Back in May, the Davis Enterprise, reporting on a CAB (Community Advisory Board), offered a rationale.  Chief Pytel explained to the CAB, “While the city has its own police auditor, Bob Aaronson, Pytel said he was not an appropriate choice to conduct the internal review because his role is to audit completed investigations — not perform them — to ensure that they were handled properly and reached reasonable conclusions.

“If Bob does the investigation, who is going to audit his work?” Chief Pytel said.

But in a meeting with a community group Bob Aaronson said that his contract did permit him to conduct such investigations – and he has routinely performed such work across the state.

His contract not only contains no clause to preclude such work, he is explicitly authorized to “interview any civilian witnesses or complainants in the course of his reviewing an investigation into any citizen complaint,” make a request to the police chief “for further investigation whenever the Independent Police Auditor concludes that further investigation is warranted,” and, most importantly, subsection (3) expressly gives him the right to recommend “to the city manager that an independent investigation of a citizen complaint be conducted.”

Subsection 5 notes that the Independent Police Auditor “will take citizen complaints/inquiries” and that he should be contacted “in cases where the complainant does not feel comfortable talking with the police department.”

Again, there is no clause that prohibits him from conducting investigations and several of the clauses suggest that that would be allowable.

Will Kelly during public comment at Tuesday’s city council meeting noted it’s been six weeks since Picnic Day and three weeks since more than 20 people came to council to express their concerns, and “in that time, I haven’t seen anything that suggests that justice is going to be served.”

He noted the update of the police on plainclothes police officers policy, but noted, “as far as I can tell, the officers on that day violated the old policy.”

He was also critical of the hiring of John McGinness, who he felt demonstrates the inability of the police to make a good choice.  “My biggest concern is in a way I’m glad that John McGinness had that radio program because it gave us a little insight into his thinking… I’m worried that the new investigator will be someone with similar views but maybe the shrewdness not to say those things on the radio.  Someone who would not be fair and impartial but (it) would be harder to prove.”

Francesca Wright added that “we want community safety for all.”  She asked the council to agendize for discussion some issues.  First, “make sure that the scope of the auditor includes public reporting to a public body.”  Second, “the establishment of a police relations that has linkages with city council.”  Third, “an independent investigator for the Picnic Day event.”

While the CAB is supposed to meet next week and has been authorized to vet potential independent investigators, City Manager Dirk Brazil continues to signal the possibility that they have not found an investigator and may not find one for some time.

Our biggest concern at this point, as the Picnic Day investigation moves forward and other complaints come forward, is that there is no effective independent oversight system in place.  Increasingly, we are hearing from potential complainants that they are fearful of coming forward due to retaliation.

It behooves us to have an independent police auditor in place to ensure that fair and impartial review of potential complaints can take place.  Why the delays?  We have received no answer, but the delays are troubling.

The Vanguard on June 28 at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen will feature a pertinent discussion on police oversight – regarding what we are doing now, what models are available, and why we need oversight.

Discussion will feature: Lizzie Buchen, ACLU Center for Advocacy & Policy; Nora Oldwin, People Power, Davis; Darren Pytel, Davis Police Chief

For more information: click here

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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