Anaheim officer watches over 2012 riots with baton in hand
Anaheim officer watches over 2012 riots with baton in hand
Matt Oliver / OC Weekly

Anaheim Discusses Forming a New Police Review Board

Anaheim is planning on establishing a permanent Police Review Board, the first of its kind for any county law enforcement agency, after a two-year pilot program finished its run. City council listened to an informational report from the city manager's office last night about proposed enhancements to the Public Safety Board model that faced much criticism, including from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, about its ineffectiveness.

"We are one of only 200 agencies that have committed to providing citizen oversight," said interim city manager Linda Andal. "The scope of the new board has been significantly enhanced with the intent to foster greater trust between the community and the police department."

In the lead up to the council discussion, the ACLU released a report finding Anaheim PD with a higher death-by-cop per capita rate than major cities like Los Angeles and New York City with blacks and Latinos disproportionately comprising the dead. The civil liberties group advocated for a review board with secure funding, investigatory access to files and the ability to set department policy. Other police accountability activists also pointed to the Orange County District Attorney's office recently releasing disturbing body camera footage that showed Vincent Valenzuela losing consciousness while in a carotid control hold applied by an Anaheim officer last year as reason for reform.

Deputy city manager Greg Garcia outlined how the Police Review Board would differ from its pilot predecessor. The new model would meet monthly, be comprised of seven members selected by lottery and have its meetings archived online for greater transparency. Board members would also have the ability to review critical incidents on scene in real time alongside the Office of Independent Review (OIR). The city manager's office hopes to solicit applications for board membership next month with the goal of establishing the oversight body by Spring 2018.

Anaheim Discusses Forming a New Police Review Board
Matt Oliver

While the Police Review Board is definitely retooled in many areas, it shares key similarities with the expired pilot program. The oversight body would still be established under the city manager, a point of contention when former city manager Paul Emery held such authorities over the board. It  would also still operate under OIR, headed by former U.S. Justice Department trial attorney Michael Gennaco.

"Whatever we do has to be credible," said mayor Tom Tait. "There's been some discussions on information and subpoena ability. The way we address that is basically the board will have access to all information legally entitled to. If you're not legally entitled to it, subpoena doesn't matter."

The ACLU pushed for unfettered access to police records in order to conduct independent investigations of alleged police misconduct. "The proposed public review board does not have that access," Jennifer Rojas, ACLU's community engagement and policy advocate tells the Weekly. "They would have access to Gennaco's reports before they are published and would be able to go with the OIR to the scene of a critical incident." Board members would also be able to listen to presentations from the police department's Major Incident Review Team (MIRT) and view body camera footage.

Councilwoman Kris Murray took issue with the ACLU's use of force report during last night's discussion. "For the want of sensational headlines, the ACLU pursued a course of action that has damaged the reputation of individual officers, harmed innocent families and sought to embarrass our city," she said. "Reports such as this must be called unprofessional and biased."

"Hold that choke!" - Sgt. Daniel Gonzalez
"Hold that choke!" - Sgt. Daniel Gonzalez
Body camera still frame

Murray criticized the comparison of Anaheim to bigger cities citing only 2 officer-involved shootings this year by its department while Los Angeles Police Department has had 37. But, then again, there's that whole per capita thing, ya know? The ACLU report did wrongly identify current Anaheim PD Public Information Officer Daron Wyatt as the shooter while on Placentia's police force in the 2004 fatal encounter with Brian Charles Smith. (He was named in the wrongful death lawsuit that the city settled for $500,000). There's also a dispute over the 2015 shooting death of Paul Anderson; the OCDA noted the death a suicide, but APD reported it to the state attorney general as a homicide. The cases are just two of 33 reviewed by the ACLU in the multi-year analysis.

Murray asked the city attorney to draft a letter demanding the civil liberties group correct the report and apologize to officers. If the ACLU doesn't, she wants her colleagues to explore taking legal action. The councilwoman also asked the city to create a side-by-side response to the report.

But the whole finger-waving moment proved strange, given that the ACLU provided all council members before the meeting with a letter explaining the their methodology while acknowledging two errors in the report; misidentifying Wyatt as the shooter in the Placentia incident and naming officer Ben Starke as a shooter who struck David Michael Abrams in 2008. They're still counting Anderson as an officer-involved death. "None of the criticisms alter our conclusion that Anaheim has a persistent high rate of officer-involved killings that has not been addressed by reforms," the letter stated. "Our findings on the patterns of fatal shootings by Anaheim PD still stand." Rojas even gave copies of the letter to council members after her public comment. But Murray carried on with her harsh words with none of her colleagues reminding her of the letter they all received twice.

Discussion of the Police Review Board and Murray's suggestions will continue on Dec. 19 at the next Anaheim city council meeting.

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