Santa Ana’s officials have resisted the idea of creating an independent police oversight commission – until now.
But the newly elected City Council, meeting for the first time on Tuesday, Dec. 15, indicated its approval for creating a civilian oversight commission, an idea widely discussed in many cities this year when protests against police brutality raged across the country.
What an oversight commission will look like in Santa Ana, and what kinds of powers it will have, are yet to be determined.
Mayor Vicente Sarmiento asked city staff to work with police and come back with a plan for creating a cost-effective standing commission “that has some teeth.”
Meanwhile, a majority of respondents to a recent city survey said they agree that police oversight is needed in Santa Ana.
City staff presented a report Tuesday that detailed different models of police oversight. As examples, they cited commissions in different cities, including Anaheim, and noted that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t have one.
Anaheim has a police review board of seven residents selected by lottery Its responsibilities include receiving community complaints and referring them to the city manager’s office or a company it contracts with, Office of Independent Review,
Tuesday marked the first regular council meeting for Sarmiento as the new mayor and three new council members – Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, Jessie Lopez and Thai Viet Phan.
Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza was the lone council member who did not comment on the topic of police oversight. Everyone else expressed support.
But their questions and comments suggested they’re leaning toward different police oversight commission models.
Phan and Lopez said they want to see a commission with investigatory powers. Hernandez, who has previously called for the same, said he would like the commission to include as members people who previously have been incarcerated.
Sarmiento said he leaned toward an investigation-focused model or an auditor-monitor model, which could look at broad patterns in complaint investigations, or a blend of those two.
“This isn’t meant to be punitive or oppressive on any one department in the city,” Sarmiento said. “Public safety is so important that we dedicate almost 60% of our general fund to it, so we should have a standing board, or commission, very much like we have one for planning … for parks and rec (and) for arts and culture.”
Councilman Phil Bacerra said he would consider blending a couple of the models to create a commission that combines a focus on reviewing police investigations while also auditing or monitoring broad patterns in complaint investigations.
Councilman David Penaloza, saying an oversight commission is “long overdue,” said he supports one of the models Bacerra suggested, an auditor-monitor model, but would consider a commission with investigatory powers. Penaloza emphasized he would want the cost to be covered by the city’s police department budget.
The cost of a commission varies greatly from city to city, depending on its duties and staffing. In Anaheim, the cost is $125,000 annually, according to a Santa Ana city staff report. In Riverside, it’s $265,541. In Berkeley, it’s $767,798, (most of that goes to pay the salaries of three full-time employees.)
The idea of a civilian oversight commission has been discussed in previous years but failed to get far under the former city council.
Meanwhile, 597 persons, including 533 residents, responded to a recent survey related to police and a possible commission. Most, 72.5 percent, either strongly agree or agree that police oversight is needed in Santa Ana. And close to the number, or 72.6 % said such oversight will positively affect public safety in the city.
Of the three models, 247 respondents said they want to see an auditor-monitor model, 215 prefer an investigation-focused commission, and 135 prefer a review-focused commission.
Source: Orange County Register