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Santa Cruz Lays Waste To Police Oversight

"Progressive" CA City Lays Waste To Police Oversight

Mark Halfmoon, Chair
CPRB In Exile

On Tuesday, January 28th, the Santa Cruz City Council
will most likely vote to repeal the ordinance that
created the Citizen's Police Review Board (CPRB) in
1994. Mayor Emily Reilly and other council members
believe that the board is ineffective and a waste of
money. They claim that the city can save $90,000 to
$120,000 per year by doing away with the CPRB and that
due to a current budget crisis Santa Cruz can no
longer afford what they see as a non-essential
program. Some of the council members say that they
support the idea of citizen oversight of the police
but that it could be done cheaper by using an
"auditor" model.

Some members of the board feel that indeed the CPRB is
ineffective because of how it was created. When a
person makes a complaint about police policies,
procedures, practices and individual behavior, it
immediately goes to the Police Department's own
Internal Affairs (IA) investigator where it often
languishes for months while it's being investigated.
The police conduct interviews with the complainant,
officers involved and witnesses. The investigator
eventually makes a recommendation to the chief or
deputy chief and one of them makes a "finding." The
complaint, IA recommendation and finding are then
forwarded to the CPRB for review. The board then, at
its next monthly meeting, in closed session, attempts
to make a finding of its own.

What is wrong with this process is that the CPRB has
only the report by the police themselves to use in
determining whether they collectively or individually
have harassed, abused or violated a citizen's rights.
Needless to say, there is a tendency by police
officers to downplay the wrongdoing of a
brother/sister officer even to the point of convenient
amnesia and "mistakes" made in the report.

The fact that CPRB findings correspond to the findings
of the chief in the majority of complaints (usually
exonerating the subject officer) is not an indication
that there was no police wrongdoing. But, given the
restrictive rules of the CPRB ordinance, an honest
person, unknowingly misled by overwhelming evidence
provided by only one side in a dispute (which almost
always discredits the other side) has no choice but to
agree with it.

The repeating patterns we see of infractions elevated
to violence and arrest and the too-tight handcuffs
complaints excused by IA seems to indicate that people
who complain about police are either all hotheads and
liars or that there are some hotheads and liars on the
force. The "lurching at officers" as a justifiable
pretext to violent police "reaction" are just too damn
common and not credible to myself, and to other
members of the CPRB. But, because of the repressively
restrictive review process, we find ourselves helpless
under the current ordinance to do little more than
make policy recommendations to the city council, City
Manager and Police Chief. Based on our experience of
trying to address problems in this manner, it appears
that our recommendations are gathering dust in "file

After studying complaints and talking with would-be
complainants who are too intimidated to challenge the
police and are afraid the CPRB is too weak to protect
them from police retribution, the chair and vice-chair
have found that, yes, racially biased and class biased
policing (profiling) does exist in Santa Cruz.

After reviewing the claims against the city related to
police mistreatment we have found that Santa Cruz can
not afford to not have vigorous citizen oversight. To
African-Americans, Latinos, the poor and teens citizen
oversight of the police is an essential public safety
function. If money is being wasted on the CPRB it is
because the city gave it no power to seriously address
police abuse. It was crafted to be a "rubber stamp"
on the police-biased findings of the chief. The City
Manager, City Council and the Chief of Police have
failed repeatedly to consider recommendations from the
board. They have, more often than not, not even
responded to our requests.

How can the council honestly claim that they can save
up to $120,000 a year when the board only has an
annual budget of $83,000? As Council Member Mike
Rotkin is quoted as saying in a recent Metro Santa
Cruz story, "no amount of playing funny games with
money" by claiming that the excess $37,000 is from
incidental and overhead costs, will help the council's
credibility on this matter.

The councils much favored "auditor" model requires the
hiring of a qualified professional, working full time
with staff assistance. I submit, after much study and
consultation with professionals in the field of
oversight, that it is impossible to attain an
effective auditor system for less than the CPRB's
current meager budget.

Berkeley has twice the population of Santa Cruz, less
than twice the police officers and more than three
times the budget for police oversight. If there is
indeed a budget crisis, (never a budget crisis for
police, jails and military) maybe the city can scrape
some change off of the $15,000,000 per year police
budget. Are abandoned vehicles such a big problem in
the city that the $114,000 allotted to the cops for
"vehicle abatement" can be considered one of those
essential public safety programs that cannot be cut or
reduced? How about the nearly one million dollar
"community relations" portion of the police budget?
Is all of that essential too?

As I asked Chief Belcher, if you say you are committed
to buying a new police car and the price for one is
thirty thousand dollars, are you really serious about
getting one if you will only offer $750 to the dealer?

Last year city employees complained to the SCPD that
one of their officers drew a loaded weapon on a pair
of 12-year olds at the Teen Center. The police told
them that nothing improper had occurred. The two kids
were black and Latino and "resembled gang members."
Santa Cruz needs police oversight. People on the CPRB
have become experts on it. If the city is going to
disband its Citizen's Police Review Board, have
something effective be there in its place. Let the
board members who have been working (volunteering) at
least 20 to 40 hours a week in addition to their
regular jobs for the past year studying citizen police
oversight models give the advice and direction to the
city they were appointed to give.

At least give them the courtesy and respect of
consulting with them, returning their phone calls or
even letting them know that they are being disbanded
before they are informed by TV news reporters with
cameras rolling.

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Chair Halfmoon pushed to reign in selective enforcement

Kudos to Mark Halfmoon for his sincere efforts to steer an unwieldy CPRB towards more effective review of police conduct. I can't help but wonder, if the more activist board of the past year was not the true reason the CPRB appeared suddenly on the chopping block?

I'd encourage anyone who is distressed over the killing of the Citizens Police Review Board to call Mayor Emily Reilly at 420-5017 and ask her why she is acted so quickly and with such little forethought to facilitate (by placing on the agenda) the killing of the Citizens Police Review Board.

Ask her if the police budget of $15,000,000 per year is sacrosanct while the $83,000 per year of police oversight is totally disposable.


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