Coming Soon: A Police Oversight Commission?

“Hey, copper! I don’t like the way you aren’t looking at me!

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait has asked City Manager Bob Wingenroth to come back to the council with a draft plan for a citizens oversight board for the Anaheim Police Department.

Per the OC Register:

“The time has come,” Tait said. “It would be good for the city to have a trusted group of citizens look into any allegations of misconduct.”

Doing so would help renew community trust and confidence in police, Tait said.

The mayor brought up the idea at the end of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, addressing several public speakers who said not enough is being done in response to the shootings on July 21 and 22 and other officer-involved shootings earlier in the year.

Tait has asked City Manager Bob Wingenroth to draft a plan for a review board that would come to the full City Council for a vote, likely early next year.

The Voice of OC has a story here.

The great Catholic writer and curmudgeon GK Chesterton advised, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know the reason it was put up.” And the converse it true when formulating public policy.

Is such a commission necessary? How are allegations as police misconduct currently handled? Is there evidence that current mechanisms for handling allegations isn’t functioning? Is there really a problem, and will this fix it? Have Anaheim residents really lost faith in their police department, or just a vocal faction (that perhaps never really had any)?

One could say there already is a citizens oversight board: it’s called the Anaheim City Council.

As always, the devil will be in the details: the composition of an oversight board, its powers, and to whom it reports (or who reports to it).

I have served on the OC Parks Commission for several years. Obviously, parks and law enforcement are different realms of government responsibility, but I believe citizens advisory commissions can play valuable roles in the operation of local government agencies. One thing my experience has taught me is the truth of axiom “personnel is policy.” At my first meeting as an OC Parks Commissioner, the Commission voted 4-3 to recommend a ban on smoking at county beaches (I was one of the three, and recommended ban ultimately died for lack of action by the Board of Supervisors). I am the only member of that commission still serving, and if a smoking ban came before the OC Parks Commission as currently constituted, I am certain it would be unanimously rejected.

My point is the appointees would, to a large extent, determine what sort of police oversight board Anaheim would have: a sober panel of leading citizens to soberly review misconduct allegations, or a perch from which “activists” would harangue the police and advocate a political agenda? My fear is it would degenerate into the latter, because, generally speaking the strident activist tends to drown out the sober citizen.

Mayor Tait undoubtedly is acting from the sincere conclusion such a body would be in the city’s best interest, and final judgment should be withheld until Mr. Wingenroth returns with a detailed proposal. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

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  1. The big supporter of this in the OCR article is Anaheim school board member Jose Moreno.

    He is to the left of Che Guevara. If he is in favor of council districts, you know if it a bad idea!

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