When former Police Auditor Bob Aaronson gave notice to city officials back 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.
However, that did not occur and just over a month after the longtime auditor announced he was leaving, the city became embroiled in the controversial Picnic Day incident, involving three police officers in a physical confrontation with at least five individuals.
Back in June, Councilmember Rochelle Swanson along with Mayor Robb Davis pushed the city to agendize a general discussion on police oversight. At that time, 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.”
He reiterated that point at the July 11 council meeting that the city would put out an RFP (Request for Proposals) now that the budget had been passed.
But the Vanguard learned this week that this has not occurred.
City Manager Dirk Brazil told the Vanguard, “We have put the hiring of a police auditor into the larger context of police oversight, wanting to make sure it all works in sync and that we have a comprehensive approach.
“Hopefully, this happens sooner rather than later,” he added.
Assistant City Manager Kelly Stachowicz added, “We have been wading through the options for consultant and process for police oversight. Robb has actually taken a lead role in this and is going to the NACOLE [National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement] conference next week, where there are a number of resources/brains to pick.
“The thinking is that we figure out the appropriate oversight structure and then hire auditor (ombudsman) position accordingly.”
But this announcement caught many off guard, including perhaps members of council who were led to believe that an RFP was forthcoming following the July meeting.
But that seems to have changed as the council shifted their approach following the mayor’s proposal which he unveiled at the July meeting.
Mayor Robb Davis moved forward a plan that was approved unanimously by council. It calls for the hire of a short-term consultant to review the current system along with recommendations from the Human Relations Commission (HRC).
The city would participate in up to five public or sponsored forums with the consultant there as a content expert. “Davis-based facilitators could provide structure for community dialogue at the meeting, but the consultant would help group the conversation with accurate technical information/input.”
The key, he said, is that this has to be a process and ultimately a police oversight system that works for Davis.
“This belongs to us,” he said. “This cannot belong to the police department.” The mayor added, “This has to be an action – civilian oversight – that belongs to the community.”
He also spoke of the need for legitimacy. “Whether we like it or not – and we’re tired and frustrated at the things people are saying to us, but there is a legitimacy question,” he said. It’s not only locally, but “it’s legitimacy of the policing in our nation. It’s fundamentally in question right now. We have to acknowledge that – we’re part of that system.”
But leaving the position vacant while the council sorts it out leaves the city without an effective police oversight system for potentially an extended period of the time.
The planning of meetings is still ongoing. There are plans to have some forums, but as we approach the second week of September, none of that has been firmed up. Even if the city decides on a police oversight system this fall, by say December, that still leaves probably until early spring before the city would have gone through an RFP process and made a hire.
Given that the city effectively precluded the previous auditor from looking into the April 22 Picnic Day incident, that means the city by the time it hires a replacement might have gone an entire year without an auditor/ombudsman in place.
The other alternative would be for the city to simply hire a temporary police auditor under the previous system, so that the city is covered by police oversight until a more permanent solution presents itself.
There are still a number of moving parts here. The city in July hired McGregor Scott to evaluate and investigate the actions of three police officers who handled the Picnic Day incident. No one is sure when that process will be completed but there has been sentiment expressed to the Vanguard that there needs to be an additional independent review of the McGregor Scott report.
The Vanguard has also expressed concerns that complaints about police conduct have not gotten to the complaint stage and that this process is further undermined by the lack of a system in place in the interim, as the city works to reconsider its overall process.
—David M. Greenwald reporting