The Santa Ana City Council directed its staff to gather information on police oversight boards, with an eye toward possibly creating one, while also taking the first step in approving a budget that includes more money for police.
Residents who phoned in to the council’s meeting Thursday night were nearly unanimous in their call for a police oversight commission. Most said they want to see one with investigatory and subpoena powers. In what seemed to be a scripted format, many also said they want the commission to include the power to hire and fire officers, including the police chief.
The idea of creating a police oversight commission has popped up twice in recent years and, both times, it didn’t get far. But with the backdrop of high profile police killings involving Black men and continued protests across the country, many residents are pushing for an independent board that can review allegations of police misconduct.
Council members Phil Bacerra, David Penaloza and Vicente Sarmiento asked the city manager to research the creation of a police oversight commission. Their colleagues agreed to have city staff look into it.
But whether such a board would be created or what it would look like remains to be seen.
Councilman Jose Solorio called it “a 50-year-old idea” and said he would want to see instead “new ideas and approaches.” Solorio made a few suggestions that include looking at transitioning the police internal affairs division, which investigates complaints of police wrongdoing, to the city attorney’s office. Penaloza suggested he wants to see an array of options, including what a board with subpoena and investigatory authority would look like. Councilman Juan Villegas said he wants to see an advisory board instead.
Some council members also commended police officers for their work.
“The great overwhelming majority of our officers,” Villegas said, “they’re great people.
“They put on their uniform. They go to work every day. They do the work they have to. And people make mistakes because they have to recruit form the human race,” said Villegas, a long-time non-sworn officer of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
“No one hates bad cops more than the good cops because they dishonor the profession,” Villegas said.
Much of the questions Thursday night about police funding took place during the council’s look at the city’s next budget. The council gave initial approval to the 2020-21 budget, which includes about $9 million more in police funding, compared to the current fiscal year. Council members Penaloza and Sarmiento voted against the budget.
Sarmiento said the budget “doesn’t’ reflect the priorities and values I heard from many of our residents and constituents.” He wants to see the document address, for example, how the city will help small businesses come out of the pandemic and how surplus public lands can better be used to meet the needs of the community.
Santa Ana is facing a projected $18.5 million shortfall in its $326 million general fund budget for 2020-21. (The total budget is nearly $670 million.) The coronavirus impact led to furloughs in the city and more recently the layoffs of 176 part-time employees, mostly in areas that were shut in recent months: library, parks, recreation and community services.
Several council members, including new Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza, said they hope the city will rehire those employees.
The meeting Thursday, a continuation of a seven-hour long meeting Tuesday night, was marked by complaints from many residents who had a hard time getting through via phone to the council meeting. Most council members were at City Hall, but the public had to call in their comments. Some said they couldn’t get through before the comment period closed. At one point, Mayor Miguel Pulido cut comments to one minute from three minutes. Pulido also asked callers to provide their address.
Speakers were not pleased.
“You’re not letting us talk at all,” one caller said. “You’re being ridiculous.”
Another resident said she didn’t know why the mayor needed her address, “unless you’re going to send me a birthday gift.”
Residents have had concerns over technological glitches and reducing comment time in recent meetings, Ruben Barreto, of the Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities group, said Friday. His non-profit was part of a small press conference held by the Santa Ana People’s Budget organization on the steps of City Hall prior to the council meeting. They called for divesting from the police department and investing more in youth and immigrant services, among other demands.
The council is scheduled to vote again on the city budget July 7. Meanwhile, a staff report that examines the cost and alternatives available to create a police oversight commission is expected in September.
Source: Orange County Register