Council to Look at Police Oversight System in July

The Davis City Council will be looking at two separate issues on police oversight.  Questions and concerns had been raised during public comment about the police auditor position that will be vacated at the end of June, as well as the status of the independent investigation into the Picnic Day incident.

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.”

The second piece of that is a broader oversight piece.  “We’re still talking internally with staff,” he indicated.  “We still have the recommendation from the HRC (Human Relations Commission) with what they passed, which I think is pretty much in line (with what) we and I think the council is considering to do.”

He indicated that they have it scheduled for July 11 but he presented some question as to whether they can get it together “for a meaningful discussion given everything else that is on that agenda, remains to be seen.”

Two weeks ago, the Human Relations Commission recommended the following structure for a civilian oversight review process:

    • To hire a professional auditor with full investigative powers with a minimum of the same number of hours as the current position
    • To include a civilian component, with public meetings, that adheres to public law
    • To appoint a Council subcommittee with full power to review complaints, and the auditor reporting directly to subcommittee.
    • The auditor will provide bi-annual reports to council.

In the meantime, the city is waiting on the independent investigation into the Picnic Day incident before taking additional action.  They have already revised the plainclothes officer policy in the wake of that incident.

However, the city still has not named a successor to former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, who resigned after the Vanguard reported that he said on his radio talk show that African Americans had done much better prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

That prompted questions from Councilmember Will Arnold and others about the appropriateness of his handling this investigation and his ability to be fair.

Adding fuel to that fire were comments that Mr. McGinness had made to the Sacramento Bee following his decision to step away.  He told the Bee that, while he was not ready to reach any conclusions, he’d seen “nothing that seems improper” in how police handled the Picnic Day situation.

This was the exact concern raised earlier by the Vanguard, which noted that Mr. McGinness had gone at length on his radio show to explain away data that showed traffic stop discrepancies in Sacramento and had defended the use of force and conduct in his own agency, both when he was sheriff and under-sheriff.

The CAB (Community Advisory Board) is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, however, city officials have signaled difficulty in finding a replacement investigator and the city has seemingly precluded the outgoing police auditor from conducting this investigation.

Nora Oldwin, with People Power, spoke during public comment.  She said, “I really think it behooves our community to know what the police are doing and them to know what we care about, so that we can work together and serve our community in a stronger safer way.”

Will Kelly 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.”

Mr. Kelly noted the additional arrests and, in particular, the arrest of Romeo Lopez, who is not currently facing charges.  He noted that Mr. Lopez was arrested “in the middle of the night, around 11 pm, officers with guns drawn who told him that they forgot to bring the warrant.”

He said, “That’s not acceptable.  When someone asks police officers at their home, can I see a warrant, I forgot is not a good enough excuse.  And indeed when he finally did get a copy of the warrant, it said that they did not have authorization for a nighttime search.”  He said, “We cannot allow this kind of police practice – it’s just misconduct on top of misconduct.”

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.”

Kate Mellon-Anibaba earned community praise for organizing the rally at Central Park after the Islamic Center vandalism.  She spoke on Tuesday stating, “I have witnessed the people of Davis come together, capable of empathy, compassion and love in the face of adversity.”

At the same time, she expressed concern.  “I grew up in Davis with the most positive experiences of safety, nurturing environment and love. Davis was my place. I still live here now with my family.

“I am married to an African Muslim immigrant and we have a three-year-old black son. I am concerned for my husband and child living in this community. Unlike myself I am afraid that Davis will never be a place for them unless we make thoughtful, transparent changes,” she said.

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.”

Again, the council took these up during the long range calendar discussion, and there will at least be a discussion on July 11.

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 it.

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

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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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