A strong civilian oversight board is needed for the Anaheim Police Department according to a new American Civil Liberties Union report released today detailing its disturbing patterns of deadly force. Officer-involved deaths in Anaheim surpassed the per capita rates in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco last year alone, the study found. The department continues to employ a number of repeat shooters. Blacks and Latinos are also killed disproportionately by its officers.
“For police accountability advocates in the city, this information isn’t going to be new,” says Jennifer Rojas, ACLU of Southern California’s community engagement and policy advocate who co-authored the study alongside staff attorney Peter Bibring. “But really, the purpose of this report is to garner a broader audience into the pattern and practices of Anaheim PD. This is an issue that all Anaheim residents should care about.”
The ACLU scoured police reports, coroner reports, newspaper articles, California Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice data in coming to its conclusions. The civil liberties group has released similar studies of the Fresno Police Department, Bakersfield Police and Kern County Sheriff”s Office. But this is the first survey of its kind for an OC law enforcement agency. The ACLU looked at 33 deaths at the hands of Anaheim police between 2003-2016, with most caused by officer-involved shootings.Back in July 2012, Anaheim policemen killed Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo in a pair of weekend shootings that touched off riots in the city and served as the impetus for the ACLU report. “Unfortunately, these killings and their aftermath are not isolated incidents, but part of a pattern of excessive force in Anaheim,” the study reads. In making its case, the ACLU notes that deadly force incidents, including those involving Taser and carotid restraint holds, don’t correlate with rising crime rates in the city, making for some jarring statistics by comparison. Between 2003-2016, police killings accounted for 17 percent of homicides in the city. That figure peaked in 2009 and 2016 when officer-involved deaths comprised 36 percent of all homicides.
The ACLU data sets also found that most police killings happened away from Anaheim Hills in the city’s mainland. Given that the Hills are mostly white, the demographics of death bleed down racial lines. Though blacks comprise less than 3 percent of the city’s residents, they account for 12 percent of those killed by police, a rate higher than the county average found by the Weekly’s own Blood Orange special report. Latinos make up 61 percent of officer-involved killings despite census data showing them forming just half of the Anaheim’s population. Forty percent of all killed by police were unarmed, a stat weighed heavily by black and Latino deaths; all whites killed by Anaheim cops were armed, save for one.
“The racial disparities that exist in terms of who’s impacted is very troubling,” Rojas says. “It’s something that Anaheim residents have long known, but hopefully the data puts some material validity to what folks have been experiencing.” The ACLU’s survey of Anaheim’s police violence comes on the heels of a recent federal jury verdict finding officer Nick Bennallack liable for excessive force in the controversial shooting that killed Diaz on July 21, 2012. He’s named in the report as a repeat shooter with three kills to his badge in as many years. More than a quarter of all fatal police encounters involve officers who’ve killed before, with Ben Starke and Kevin Flanagan named alongside Bennallack. “What this report tries to convey is that Bennallack has used excessive and deadly force on many occasions,” Rojas says. “For him to be found by a federal jury of using excessive force, the city should be taking corrective action on repeat shooters whether in the form of disciplinary measures or by firing them.”
Anaheim has made mild reforms in the wake of the 2012 riots. Police are now outfitted with body-worn cameras. More officers are assigned to community policing duties now than in past years. In 2014, the city also piloted a Public Safety Board (PSB) and teamed it with the Office of Independent Review (OIR) under the authority of the city manager’s office. But Anaheim PD rejected key policy reforms recommended by OIR concerning use of deadly force. With the pilot program now over, the ACLU is calling for a stronger oversight board and the adoption of numerous policy reforms, including public release of body camera footage in deadly incidents within 30 days, in the wake of its findings. “The PSB lacked sufficient authority and resources to provide meaningful oversight,” the report concludes. “In the end, the PSB became a forum for board members and the public to hear presentations by OIR and Anaheim PD on policy recommendations.”
In the hopes of reviving police oversight in Anaheim, the ACLU provides five key points to strengthen it. Any body serving that function must come with subpoena power to compel evidence for investigations. The civil liberties group also suggests proper staffing and funding to carry out its mission. If the police stall or refuse to implement recommendations, the ACLU wants oversight capable of implementing department policies. Although the report doesn’t mention former police chief Raul Quezada retiring after a no confidence vote, Rojas sees an immediate role for a revived board in selecting his permanent replacement. “In terms of process we think the board should take top priority,” she says. Anaheim city council is expected to discuss police oversight’s future early next month. Wasting no time, the ACLU is taking the report, its findings and recommendations into the community. They’re hosting a town hall at the Arab American Community Center in West Anaheim this evening with a call to action starting at tomorrow’s council meeting.
“We need meaningful and effective civilian oversight in Anaheim,” Rojas says. “The city council has an opportunity to intervene in Anaheim PD’s high rate of deadly force by getting civilian oversight right.”