Petaluma set to introduce greater police oversight

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Petaluma will become the third city in Sonoma County to expand police oversight in the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, adopting an independent auditor model following recommendations from the city’s race relations and policing committee.

In a unanimous vote at Monday night’s meeting, city council agreed to a recommendation for a hybrid police oversight model, and that the city will need an outside adviser who will map the establishment of relationships between the Petaluma Police Department, city personnel and the community. City officials estimate it will take a year to implement the new oversight processes.

“It’s another step on the road,” Mayor Teresa Barrett said of the city’s progress in its drive for more diversity and accountability. “It’s going to take a lot of steps, but we’re going to get there.”

The move came after the city’s 28-member ad hoc Community Advisory Committee on Race Relations and Policing, which was created last year following the killing of George Floyd, called for greater accountability and procedural changes in the city’s public safety sector. The resident-led group tasked with helping Petaluma become a more inclusive and welcoming community began meeting in April 2021.

Committee member Zahyra Garcia, who represents local activist group Indivisible Petaluma, said Monday’s city council vote is a “foot in the door” towards police accountability, but there is still work to be done. make.

“We could go further,” Garcia said in a text message Wednesday afternoon.

Petaluma is the latest town in Sonoma County to move in this direction, after Santa Rosa hired an independent police auditor in November 2021. In July 2021, Sevastopol officials approved the use of the “Open Policing” app to allow residents to openly review their experiences with officers. Additionally, the Independent County-Wide Law Enforcement Review and Outreach Office was established in 2015 by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to strengthen the relationship between residents and the Department of sheriff.

At its Monday meeting, City Council reflected on four existing oversight models: a review-based model, an auditor/monitor-based model, an investigation-based model, or a hybrid combination recommended by City of Petaluma staff from two or more of them. Ultimately, board members agreed that a hybrid model would create the most balance.

Driven by complaints from residents, review-based models, like the one used by Sonoma County’s IOLERO, are currently the most common form of civilian oversight used in the United States.

In auditor/monitor-based systems, an auditor examines police practices and reports to a higher review authority regarding police service investigation, finding, and discipline patterns.

Investigation-based systems, the second most commonly used and most expensive, involve independent investigations into reported cases of police misconduct. According to the staff report, investigative systems generally result in better access to police records than examination-based systems.

Although the city council expressed general support for an independent auditor, residents expressed concern about potential bias in the hiring process. City Manager Peggy Flynn, who oversees the police chief and has direct access to police misconduct reports, would be tasked with bringing in the auditor, raising questions about whether the auditor would be hired on a neutral basis.

Deputy Mayor Dennis Pocekay called for the hiring of an auditor who would reflect fair oversight practices.

“It has to be someone who is very knowledgeable about police work and police training and standards,” Poecekay said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “He must be someone who knows the law very well, in terms of more recent legislation which has brought more police work into the public arena. And it must be someone who is not biased.

City Attorney Eric Danly said the city charter requires that responsibility for hiring remain with the city manager.

Police Chief Ken Savano, who approached the notion of expanded surveillance with some reservations, showed his support for the city council’s decision at Monday’s meeting.

Other next steps in the city’s commitment to improving race relations and policing include earning accreditation from the Law Enforcement Agency Accreditation Commission, which is described as the “gold standard” in public safety. Those who have become accredited by CALEA are considered leaders in policing practices, policies and procedures. While 19 of the California agencies have achieved accreditation, none have done so in Sonoma County so far.

City staff estimate the cost of an independent police auditor to be as high as $25,000 per year, while accreditation costs by CALEA are $12,000 per year. A civilian police department official overseeing accreditation would be covered by the city’s Measure U budget.

City Council also asked City staff to continue researching the potential for a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant that Council members would consider approving in the future. The consultant will determine whether or not the city will need a DEI commission and whether an internal equity officer position is also needed. This position, which would allow other contract specialists to provide training and policy development, would result in staffing costs of $200,000 to $300,000.

If a DEI commission were to be created, the city council would consider eliminating or consolidating at least five of its existing commissions, committees and councils to make way for the appropriate human resources.

Amelia Parreira is an editor for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.

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