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Council pulls the plug on police review board

Council pulls the plug on police review board


January 30, 2003
Sentinel staff writer

Ex-mayor Christopher Krohn lobbied his former colleagues to spare
the police review board, then refused to relinquish the lectern when
his time was up.
But no amount of speechmaking could stop the council Tuesday night
from chopping the city’s controversial advisory group: the vote was
7-0 to revoke the ordinance creating it.
The group cost the city $90,000 a year, not including an estimated
annual $10,000 to $15,000 in police overtime. Last week the city cut
$60,000 from the board budget, leaving $30,000 to pay a
city-contracted auditor to review police-related complaints, and
report to the city manager.
Since 1995, the board has met about allegations of police
misconduct. Activists say the city set up the group as a “rubber
stamp,” while others say it’s a forum for activists who hate cops.
Most of the 30 people at Tuesday’s session urged the council to
keep the board. Sherry Conable, an advocate for the homeless, said
the auditor proposal puts “more control into the hands of staff and
less into the citizenry.”
But Diane Cohan of Tri-County Legal Services said the CPRB has
always been “a horrific waste of money” and that the cash would be
better spent on public safety.
Krohn said Santa Cruz residents deserved to weigh in before the
council lopped off “a social and political link of civilian control” on
police. He told council members they were flouting progressives.
Krohn ignored Mayor Emily Reilly’s repeated entreaties for him to step
away from the microphone after his three minutes were up.
“I need to ask you to finish up, Christopher,” she said. “Please.”
Krohn said, “I just need to finish this letter,” then kept reading a
statement signed by eight Santa Cruzans, including Bernice Belton of
Santa Cruz Action Network, former mayor Celia Scott and political
organizer and ex-review board member Sandy Brown.
Vice Mayor Scott Kennedy grew angry when Krohn refused to step
“Former Mayor Krohn chose to stand up and tell us how to do our
work,” Kennedy said later in the meeting. “To come before us now
with his proposal is particularly unconstructive.”
Review board chairman Mark Halfmoon said the board’s hands were
always tied with “one-sided” police findings that guaranteed the board
could not be an independent voice. Halfmoon, appointed by Krohn,
accused the council of refusing to meet with members or even return
calls before to the cuts.
Halfmoon stopped just short of accusing the council of racism. He
and another CPRB member are black.
“It feels to me that we are two black men not being taken seriously,”
he said. He added that he respects Robert Aaronson, the city’s pick
for interim auditor of police complaints, but said the situation smacked
of ‘‘Let’s go get a white guy to take care of it for us.”
Council members did not respond to the accusation.
Police Chief Steve Belcher said the board was a good idea that failed
in practice.
“It’s my job as police chief to hire the right people in the first place,
to give them the correct supervision and training, to hold them
accountable,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, they agree with
us: 90 percent of cases and almost all serious discipline that happens
is typically not the result of citizen complaints but issues that police
supervisors bring forth.”
Kennedy, who was on the council when the panel was created, said
the board was an experiment that did improve the quality of local
policing but was taken over by a few negative activists.
While most council members insist the new system will be more
effective and cheaper, activists say handing police-review matters to
the council is like having “the fox guard the hen house.”
Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice said an auditor has proven effective in
other cities. He said, however, that he wanted to make sure the
auditor retained the functions of the existing CPRB, and that the
council could review police policy as well as complaints about
individual officers.
Contact Dan White at dwhite (at)


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