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CPRB: Questions and Answers

A local reporters asks questions about the CPRB
Long-time anti-police violence activist Robert Norse gives his answers.

A reporter for a local paper asked me the following questions. I don't know how many of the answers will see print, but I'm posting them here for general information and comment:

1. Do you think that the past system the CPRB used was effective? If not, what do you think could have been changed?

No, it was not effective. CPRB didn't use its public hearing for complaints power. It had no funded independent investigation nor mandatory public hearing power. It had a
confusing and different standard for sustaining police complaints ("preponderance of the evidence" versus the more difficult SCPD "clear and convincing" standard).

All serious complaint reviews were delayed months, first by the SCPD's IA (Internal Affairs) investigation but then by City Council's tendency to remove from investigation any
complaints that were involved in criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits (which means any serious complaint).

CPRB members were hobbled politically by their desire to please City Council members and not offend the police department. The staff was more closely tied to the police and the city manager's office than to the CPRB. CPRB appointees were usually conservative bureaucrats who had no interest in doing the necessary leading, public speaking, and activism that might make the Board more effective. Until recently the Chairs have all been most anxious to avoid any confrontations with police (Kay Bowden, Bill Christie, Lisa Rose, Arnie Leff, Jim King).

Still, the Board was beginning to be more effective. This summer, Chair Halfmoon got the Board to oust the SCPD rep from the closed hearings--where they'd previously had
disproportionate influence (while no citizen or complainant reps were allowed there). Halfmoon also stopped the staff from meeting with the Police Chief before finalizing the

In November the CPRB asked the City Manager to direct the Police Chief to stop stonewalling on the "use and display of force" directives. They also were ready to demand
back the Quintin Martin shooting files, which Belcher had walked into the CPRB office and taken. (Belcher ended giving them back voluntarily.) In December the CPRB passed
a resolution against Selective Enforcement which CPRB staff then declined to pass on to City Council. The Police Department was beginning to feel some heat.

The Board was crippled at birth, after being long delayed, by Councilmember Kennedy (as well as Rotkin and Matthews). The original proposals by the Coalition for a Citizens
Police Review Commission were stronger and included some real citizen investigation. Kennedy neutered them.
Halfmoon's Board was working in that direction--which was why I believe it was cut.

2.Opponents to the CPRB say that it was ineffectual because most of the decisions were made behind closed doors. Was it possible for them to allow for more public dialogue,
and do you think this could have help the the public image of the CPRB?

Sure. The Board was partially hamstrung by state law and the special privileged "secret" status of police officer files. But holding some real public outreach meetings on campus and in other places that really sought out public input about police behavior would have been good.

A CPRB-in-exile that puts out regular policy statements, invites citizens to make public complaints and call witnesses, even though it doesn't have access to IA files could serve as the catalyst for significant reform of the SCPD.

The Board has never used its Public Hearings power. Halfmoon himself has never voted for a public hearing, unwisely wanting to "save his political capital for a serious case." There have been a number of serious cases, including the beating of a man for refusing a
"feeding the birds" littering ticket downtown in June (the Norman Friedberg case).

3. How do you respond to Chief Belcher's statement in the Sentinel that 90% of cases are typically not the result of citizen complaints but issues that police supervisors brought up?

That's not accurate. There are a number of internally-generated complaints, but most of them come from citizen complaints, according to the SCPD and the CPRB's own stats.

I'm not surprised that Belcher would argue that his police supervisors are on top of everything. One complaint that Halfmoon made of the SCPD was that its reports claim it
is always right. This image maintenance program will continue unabated (with a $1 mil PR budget each year, no less!) as the CPRB records are erased (7 years of audio tapes are due to be "recycled").

4.What do you project will happen to the bulk of citizens' complaints when there is no citizen review process?

Pretty much what happens now. They will be dismissed by the SCPD's IA. Those who have the resources will turn serious complaints into lawsuits which will go to court (using out-of-town lawyers, since local shysters are generally afraid to challenge the police).

5. Do you think that similar citizen reviews should be considered in neighboring communities like Watsonville or Felton?

Watsonville maybe. Felton's too small. Groups like Copwatch, the idea of a Citizen's Tribunal, and Citizen Investigation Groups with real powers created by initiative would be helpful.

Anyone who wants to help a CPRB-in-exile Mark Halfmoon at 457-9754 X1788 or e-mail him at markhalfmoon (at)

Anyone interested in a Citizens Tribunal can contact me at 423-4833 or e-mail me at rnorse (at) .

Voices on Channel 27 Thursday February 6 on Community TV at 7:30 PM may be doing a show on the dismemberment of Citizens Police Review.

Ditto with KSCO 12:10 P.M. AM 1080 Wednesday February 5th.

Likewise on Free Radio Santa Cruz 6-8 PM Thursday February 6th 96.3 FM.

--Robert Norse

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