(Multi-author submission see bottom for full list) – Just as our city’s accountants are not asked to audit their own books, the Davis police department should not be primarily responsible for investigating its own officers. This is just common sense and it shouldn’t be controversial, even if there weren’t an immediate need for such oversight. Unfortunately — as we saw clearly this past Picnic Day — there is, and that makes establishing robust civilian oversight an urgent priority.
Police officers are public officials, therefore it is a matter of public concern whether they are acting in the public interest, particularly when they have the unique state-sanctioned ability to use force on other people.
As many have already said, including Mayor Davis at the July 11th city council meeting, the Davis police department does not treat all of us the same. And while this problem has many causes, it must be acknowledged that in Davis — as in many other places — race is the primary factor in disparities in policing. Whether the problem is due to implicit or explicit bias, systemic problems or a few bad apples, out of touch leadership or community indifference, the situation is unacceptable and remaining silent amounts to a tacit approval of the status quo. All of us have a moral obligation to do something.
The City Council, the Davis Phoenix Coalition, and other community leaders are planning a series of community forums to allow those most affected to voice their concerns in a safe environment. These forums will also educate Davis residents about the issue and present different oversight systems. While that process unfolds we believe that past efforts suggest a few basic principles that ought to be a part of the solution, most of which are drawn from the 2006 Human Relations Commission report on civilian oversight.
First of all, the complaint process must ensure that the complainant is protected from retaliation by creating an independent submission process to a civilian oversight body. Numerous Davis residents have complaints about the Davis Police department but are reluctant to make these complaints public out of fear for their own well-being. This must change.
Second, the oversight body must be inclusive of communities that bear the brunt of police misconduct. This must be reflected in the makeup of the actual body, the process of appointing voting members, and the public outreach and engagement efforts.
Third, the oversight body must have the authority to initiate investigations and to take meaningful action based on the findings of those investigations. We cannot rely on the police to follow up on complaints or to act on non-binding recommendations from a civilian body. The old police auditor position gave an independent consultant the authority to review internal police investigations but not to initiate their own investigations. This gives the police department control over which complaints get serious attention, how evidence is collected, and how it is reported back to the complainant and the public. The new oversight body must have the authority to respond directly to individual complaints.
Fourth, the oversight body must have the capacity to investigate patterns and practices, not just individual cases. We need a transparent accountability system reflective of actual police practices in our schools, on our streets, and throughout the community. The nature of racial profiling is such that no single instance is conclusive on its own. Therefore the oversight body must have access to data on traffic stops and other interactions and the ability to take action based on a pattern of complaints.
It is a shame that the 2006 Davis city council members declined to adopt these proposals which were suggested more than ten years ago. Had these proposals been adopted, perhaps we would not be having this discussion today. Our current city council members, unlike their predecessors in 2006, say that they are committed to making substantive changes. We hope they will demonstrate this with their actions as the investigation into the Picnic Day incident continues and that they will be bold advocates for change even in the face of political pressure to do nothing.
Carole Standing Elk
Davis People Power