By Madison Forwood
DAVIS — On Nov. 2, the Davis PAC reviewed the findings of the grand jury review, wrote in corrections and responded to the findings.
The Yolo County Grand Jury is made up of a series of volunteers that reviewed the internal policies and practices of the Davis Police Department (DPD) as well as external interactions with the public on behalf of the Davis Police Accountability Commission (PAC). The report provided a lengthy list of ‘findings’ concerning discrepancies of the PAC. However, since the appearance of the report, the commission members have been uncertain about the motivations behind it.
In previous meetings, Commissioner Sean Brooks has expressed his own doubts, “It was very unclear in the report where the grand jury’s interest was generated.”
There were a total of 11 findings, and eight recommendations for the Davis PAC. At the meeting, the commissioners revised their responses to the grand jury findings according to the criticisms of commission members and the opinion of the public.
The finding with some of the most criticism for the PAC was “the practice of excluding DPD leadership and officers from meetings of the Davis PAC limits candid dialogue between the PAC and the DPD.”
The second finding, “the practice of excluding DPD leadership and officers from meetings of the PAC limits the PAC’s ability to obtain the specialized knowledge it needs to make recommendations to the City Council,” emphasized the disconnect between the PAC and the DPD that the grand jury felt existed.
Not only did those reflecting on the relationship feel a level of understanding between both parties was lacking, they also felt that this disconnected relationship was a detriment to the community.
Some of the PAC members had some concerns about this finding because in their recollection of past community hearings the police have not been explicitly prohibited. Chair of the PAC, Dillan Horton, firmly reminded other commission members that “we never decided to exclude police, we talked about the ramifications and the dynamics of having police officers at our meetings, we had lots of conversations about that but we never said we don’t want the police there. We never did that, but this finding suggests that we did even multiple times.”
The commission agreed to revise their response to the jury finding to ‘partially agree,’ because the PAC has been, and continues to be, wary of too much police involvement.
There were a couple of grand jury findings that the PAC completely disagreed with in their response for the Davis city council to review. One such finding was, “Sensitivity to a limited number of individuals has outweighed the claims of the larger community to benefit from hearing the insights and perspectives of the DPD as the PAC attempts to fulfill its responsibility to provide meaningful guidance to the Davis City Council with respect to police policies, procedures, and practices.”
The Davis PAC formally responded, “Disagree. We are unclear who the Grand Jury is referring to related to ‘the claims of the larger community.’ The PAC has heard multiple specific requests for the police to not attend. We have not heard specific requests for the police to attend PAC meetings.”
However the commission members did not comment or share opinions during the live meeting. The main purpose of this meeting was for the PAC to review their completed response to the grand jury findings before they submitted the report to Davis City Council. Thus, many findings and recommendations were not discussed.
The PAC did not have any corrections for their responses to the grand jury findings 5 through 9. The commissioners seemed fairly agreeable about their responses to the grand jury findings.
One finding of particular interest was, “As stated in its authorizing resolution, the PAC is to provide community-based police accountability by way of interactions with the public, the IPA, the DPD, and others. The PAC’s responsibility to provide police accountability is not limited by the non-action of the Davis City Council at the July 30, 2019, meeting.”
The IPA is the independent police auditor that reviews the actions and decisions of the Davis Police Department.
“When PAC received a Picnic Day review by IPA and asked the Council to take action to reopen an investigation into the incorrect press release, the Council declined,” the PAC stated. “The PAC is unsure what else it can do because our authorizing resolution does not include investigatory privileges.”
However, the PAC did discuss their response to the grand jury finding that critiqued the understanding held by commission members. The finding stated, “PAC commissioners lack understanding of how internal affairs investigations are conducted, how findings based on such investigations are made, how SB 1421 requests should be presented, and how the DPD responds to SB 1421.”
The PAC agreed. However, the commission revised this response to be in partial agreement. The commission stated, “The PAC is a citizen commission whose members have a variety of backgrounds and represent the community. The group has access to utilize IPA and DPD for training purposes.”
Commissioner Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald reflected, “We are citizens, we represent the community, we aren’t going to have a police background, or investigative background. But we have enough intelligence and knowledge that we wait for information.”
To continue the relevant conversation, Horton pointed out that an additional two findings continued to critique similar aspects of the PAC. However, the commission appropriately responded, stating, “To fulfill the training required, a commitment of more hours per month will be required of volunteer citizen Commissioners and the City will be required to allocate time and funds to provide training. PAC should join NACOLE to be kept up to date on best practices of policing and oversight.”
NACOLE is the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which attempts to build the connection between community and police.
Commissioner Mary Bliss stated, “Training is important and I think that is another discussion we should have as a group. We will discuss when, how and why we might do it but not in response to the grand jury. “
Horton initiated public comment for the suggestive edits to the grand jury recommendations, findings, and responses.
A notable public comment came from Lupita, “I see the grand jury inquiries as part of a long-standing harassment by the Yolo County criminal justice system to oppress and intimidate those in opposition to police brutality, harassment and abuse.
“When Rob Davis was still mayor, the entire City Council walked out on me while I was reading the title six of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which simply prohibits the discrimination on the basis of race color and national origin and programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance,” she continued.
“As I was reading this, many city staff were snickering and even Michael Webb walked out on me with the entire City Council,” Lupita stated. “I believe that excluding the police during these meetings is a valid reason because there are many of us that are afraid to speak out. It has two prongs, the police don’t want to participate because they have been asked to come to the police accountability Commission meetings and also when police are present people are afraid to speak out. That is a very important thing to notice.”
Another public commenter, Logan Plandexter, furthered these concerns, “In the current makeup of our society there’s a power imbalance between people who are in power, and this the city of Davis the Police Department, here holds a lot of power. Maybe they didn’t mean to do that, but they have 30 percent of the general fund budget so they hold a ton of power and they actually end up determining how people’s lives go with their discretion of enforcement, right?
“So we have to remember that when we’re talking about ‘should we have police at the meetings?’ What should their involvement be, absolutely you want to be looking to them to have information, right? You want to understand their perspective, you want to genuinely in good faith understand what’s happening, but you have to understand that you always need to air on the side of caution of vulnerable and marginalized communities.
“So when we’re looking at the grand jury’s recommendation, saying ‘wow well we really need to have more police involvement and that should be a staple that should be every meeting someone from the Police Department should be there,’ I think that again Don and Dillan really hit the nail on the head in that maybe in theory something that could happen, but we have to remember the power imbalance” Plandexter concluded.
Ultimately, the public comment echoed the sentiments shared by the PAC members. The correspondence between PAC’s feedback and the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations will be submitted to the Davis City Council for review.