Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Civilian review for Pomona PD - is it necessary?

At tomorrow night's Charter Review Commission meeting, there is a proposal by a local citizen to create, in the Pomona City Charter, a civilian review commission for police discipline.

In the letter, the author, a member of the local NAACP, argues that this would address the ongoing issues in the relationship between the Pomona Police Department and the community at-large. It cites 50 lawsuits between individuals who have had contact with the PD and the City, yet gives no indication whether that is a large number or not. It argues that there is a lack of diversity in the police, yet I see no statistics to back up that claim.

The most recent big "incident" of the police was related to the checkpoints, and when some officers "infiltrated" (attended out of uniform as private citizens) a community meeting on this issue. Personally, I support the checkpoints. I know others on this blog don't, but the way that Pomona PD conducts checkpoints, with advance signage and not blocking all four directions of traffic (after the Mission/San Antonio incident), they are legal and serve a purpose in catching unsafe drivers while allowing anyone paying attention to the road to divert (and no, the police don't automatically pull people that divert over, as I always divert with no incident). As far as "selective enforcement" and "lack of relationship", I saw a diverse group of people supporting the Pomona PD a couple of months ago - whites, Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and the multi-racial.

All this would be moot if civilian review commissions didn't strain internal relationships in police departments. If it was an advisory commission like Claremont's Police Commission it would just be a forum for obtaining information and expressing concerns. But the model Berkeley Police Review Commission creates a separate bureaucracy of independent investigators to complaints, in parallel with the Internal Affairs section of the department. They have subpoena power and can issue decisions.

Police officers will feel second guessed, when they are already second guessed by superiors, politicians, and through the civil lawsuit process. As appointees of City Councilmembers, they will be perceived as, and may in fact be, puppets of City Councilmembers trying to score points on the back of the police. (When has that ever happened?) Opening up these hearings actually just results in targeted officers to lawyer up and not share "lessons learned" that might occur in an internal disciplinary situation. The District Attorney already reviews situations of officer-involved shootings and many cases of use of force, so this would just duplicate their work. Indeed, there are indications that the work of the commission would either never be public, or there would never be any information shared with the commission, because of the strong protections offered peace officers under State law. Similarly, a review commission is no substitute for a strong internal affairs division, background investigation prior to hire, and a strong grounding in ethics and integrity of the individual officers.

There is no evidence that the City Manager is going to do something stupid like offer an employee of the year award to a cop who kills someone, when the investigation was still ongoing. In my experience, Chiefs Lewis, Romero, and now Keetle have had good to excellent relationships with the community. Former Police Chief Richard Tefank is the chair of the Los Angeles Police Commission, which was created as a result of the Los Angeles Riots. But police agencies have shifted dramatically since 1992, and for the better. Nor I am aware of any cases where there have been issues of complaints being investigated unfairly. If that is happening, the ombudsman model may be more effective than what officers perceive as an anti-cop dog and pony show. But in a small agency (and Pomona PD is small, even compared to Berkeley, with 30% less officers patrolling 50% more population), such an entity shouldn't be necessary.


John Clifford said...

As a member of the Charter Review Commission, I'd like to clarify.

The issue of a police commission will not be formally discussed at tonight's meeting. A citizen did write a letter to the commission which will be addressed, but the issue would need to be assigned to a subcommittee for research before coming back to the commission for discussion. The actual agenda for this evening's meeting will be to discuss the progress of the subcommittees and to create a time-line for when each issue will be agendized for full commission discussion.

At most there will be discussion of how we should proceed and if we even want to look at this issue.

Thanks Cal for keeping an eye on what's going on with the commission.

John Clifford said...

BTW: The commission is considering an Ethics Commission, which has been assigned to a subcommittee.

Cal, hope you can make tonight's meeting as it will be interesting to hear what each of the subcommittee's will be looking at for consideration in the charter amendment process.

As a heads up, the October meeting is scheduled to look at the issue of districts and we'll be looking for public comment on the issue. We'll probably be moving to a larger venue for that specific meeting.

Anonymous said...

actually, a civilian review commission would def. improve police-community relations in this city. as a resident for a very long time, there's been instances where the PD is a bit 'excessive' in how they approach situations. this is no accusation, simply what i have seen since i've been here. Stats are very easy to obtain and should not be used as an argument for not having this commission in the city.

Anonymous said...

Pomona needs a police commission bad. One that is fully accessible to monolingual Spanish speakers too.

John Clifford said...

Saying we need a police commission is OK, but what do you feel such a commission should do? What powers should they have?

While we'd all want transparency, police commissions are somewhat hampered by laws that protect officers so that you can't have open hearings where unsubstantiated claims are aired. Most of this would have to be done in closed-sessions.

I'm curious as to what supporters of such a commission see as it's role and what kinds of powers you feel it should have.