By Melanie Johnson
DAVIS, CA – The Davis Police Accountability Commission (PAC) this past Monday met to discuss a memo they received March 23 from Davis City Attorney Inder Khalsa which effectively prohibits independent police audits of mental health calls conducted by the Davis Police Department (DPD).
Khalsa’s memo specifically cited Welfare and Institutions Code Section 5150 as barring the city’s independent police auditor Michael Gennaco from auditing 5150 reports, because this information “must be maintained in strict confidence and can only be disclosed to specified parties.”
Khalsa added, “The purpose of keeping 5150 reports confidential is to protect the privacy of the individual being evaluated as well as that of witnesses” and that “making them public might discourage people from seeking mental health assistance for themselves and others.”
However, members of the PAC argued that this finding stems from a misinterpretation of the statute and runs counter to the PAC’s ultimate goal of police transparency.
Commissioner Morgan Poindexter asserted the importance of debating Khalsa’s interpretation, prefacing, “As someone who has had mental health struggles before…I understand wanting confidentiality…and I understand the city’s perspective from a liability standpoint.”
However, she insisted the PAC “re-center the conversation on why we’re talking about this” and reminded the commission that for “police responses in Davis to mental health calls as we saw in the last ‘use of force’ audit, either alcohol and drugs or mental health were involved in every single one of our…uses of force.”
She concluded, “I think that confidentiality is important, but I also just wanted to remind us, really, why we [are] here…to protect those people who are genuinely the most vulnerable,” adding that “that’s the reason why we’re trying to look into these types of calls.”
Mayor Gloria Partida expressed her agreement with Poindexter’s comments, affirming that “these are the most vulnerable people, so we want the most transparency that we can have and we’re considering this quite seriously.”
However, she maintained that while “there is frustration with how slowly these things move forward…it’s a big subject and there [are] questions that people have and everybody has to have their questions answered” before they can proceed with a specific course of action.
At the commission’s request, Gennaco provided background on his work involving these types of calls for service and his own assessment of the memo’s implications.
He reflected, “When I was asked by the commission to do the ‘use of force’ audit…at least one of the incidents that I reported about was a 5150 call for service, and the arrest reports, the incident report, [Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)] report, and all the other documentation that referenced the police response and the way that the police handled that incident was provided to me.”
Gennaco specified the sole intention of his audits is to evaluate police response, and that accordingly, the content of his reports is predominantly “what we found, and what we thought of the police response, and what we thought about ways to improve the police response to reduce the likelihood that force would be used in a similar situation.”
He further clarified, “If you look at that report you will find no names, because we don’t include names in the report, and…no information about the individual who the call for service was all about.”
Gennaco emphasized that exposing the information of the subject of the mental health call is “not the purpose” of his audit, and ultimately “would defeat the purpose of our intent…which is to evaluate not at all the person who is going through a mental health crisis, but to evaluate the way in which the police department responded to that call for service, and how good a job they did, or where they could have improved.”
Gennaco added in regard to the statute, “if all of this information is hidden from purview because of what I believe to be a misinterpretation of the statute…then that would mean that there would never be an opportunity for an outsider to ever be able to make these evaluations on these mental health calls, that is, the way in which the police department responded to the incident.”
Gennaco also revealed that his aforementioned mental health audit report was approved by the same city attorney whose memo now precludes him from performing these kinds of audits. He argued that as “the law hasn’t changed since I wrote that report a few months ago,” this procedural change must be the result of a “brand new interpretation of the law.”
Commissioner John Myers agreed with Gennaco’s assessment, stating “I think the city attorney just got it wrong as a matter of law.”
He continued, “I’m not an expert on it, but I would hope that the powers that be would not assume that the city attorney got it right simply because the city attorney is the city attorney…I want somebody to take a fresh look at whether she is correct as a matter of law.”
PAC Vice Chair Robert Canning openly questioned “how Mike can do his job when he’s hindered by supposed legalities.”
Canning explained, “There [are] two cases on his agenda right now that are mental health cases. One is a mishandled mental health case from March 2022 and the other one is a DPD [failure] to investigate or conduct a 5150 evaluation.”
Canning concluded, “If his job doesn’t include all aspects of police work, then I’m not sure why we’re paying him what we do.”
City Manager Kelly Stachowicz attempted to alleviate the commission’s concerns, emphasizing that this issue is a matter of patience rather than a matter of misaligned goals.
She stated, “I did talk with the city attorney last week…She was working through the questions, the information that she was trying to get for the council, but wasn’t finished. I apologize that it [has] taken longer than you guys want, but that is the process that we’re [going to] have to stick to.”
Stachowicz assured the commission, “our goal in all of this is to get to the place where everybody can agree that we’re moving forward” and reinforced the importance of “keeping the focus on ensuring that we’re helping some of our most vulnerable members of the community.”
She added that, “ultimately, the goals are the same. I hope people don’t think otherwise.”
Another topic of the PAC’s discussion was City Council’s decision to hold a closed session on April 19 regarding this issue. Commission members questioned Mayor Partida and Stachowicz on the ethics and logic behind this decision.
Canning first opened the issue to debate, asking, “I’m just curious why this is such a sensitive issue that it requires a closed session, as opposed to a session in which it could be discussed with the public and [be] transparent.”
Stachowicz responded that the meeting was “allowable under closed session because of potential liability or potential litigation.”
However, public commenter Connor Gorman later chimed in about the closed session debate, noting “It was mentioned that it was allowed to have these discussions in closed session, but it was not necessarily stated that it was necessary or vital or useful to do so.”
He emphasized “there is a difference here between what is lawful and what is ethical…It could be allowed but still not the best way to go about things.”
Regarding the privacy concerns cited in Khalsa’s memo, Gorman alerted the commission to the selective invocations of privacy concerns by different entities “when it suits them.”
Mayor Partida insisted the council’s use of a closed session was “a matter of just making sure that we have as much information as we can before we commit to going out on a limb.”
She emphasized, “We want to be sure that we’re not open to liability and that we are…ensuring the privacy of the individuals that are [receiving these service calls].”
Following their discussion, the PAC voted unanimously to forward its unanswered questions directly to the city council liaison to be conveyed to the city attorney, and recommended the City Council draw upon input from other jurisdictions and the expertise of Gennaco in future deliberations of this issue.