Police Reform Panel Struggles to Keep Everyone on the Same Page as Deadline Nears
A virtual meeting of the Fresno Commission for Police Reform turned into more than 5 hours of back and forth bickering about rules Monday night that ultimately led to the tabling of many recommendations up for discussion.
For example, the panel’s subcommittee on police oversight produced 29 recommendations, but the full commission pulled 18 of them for re-consideration.
Commission chair Oliver Baines, a former city councilman and former Fresno police officer, apologized at the conclusion of the meeting for the ‘confusion’ that happened during his watch.
Members said they were unclear about what they were voting on at times, confused about the documents they had in their packets versus what was being shown on screen, and confused as to whether the work of some subcommittees were overlapping the efforts of others.
Baines promised everyone the commission would come up with a document on police reforms that everyone would be happy with. He also said, “We have to finish this process.” The commission has just one more meeting scheduled for October 26th.
The 37-member commission includes residents, community advocates, and experts on public safety and community policing.
Most Contentious Moments
“I’m a little disappointed that I don’t hear a lot of preparedness with the commissioners.”–Commission chair Oliver Baines
Some of the most contentious moments arose after a presentation by Fresno State NAACP president D’Aungillique Jackson, who chairs the community input committee. Jackson went through a detailed presentation showing data collected from over 4,000 community surveys with responses to a variety of questions about police interactions in the city of Fresno.
Once Jackson presented her committee’s recommendations, commission members began a 1 hour back and forth debate about how to proceed. Some members suggested not voting on any items until their next meeting. Baines encouraged members to at least approve items that everyone agreed on.
“If you don’t want to vote on anything tonight, at some point, I’m telling you, we’ve got to vote,” said Baines. He also said he didn’t think the members of the commission understood the process of what it takes to get to an end report.
“I’m a little disappointed that I don’t hear a lot of preparedness with the commissioners,” said Baines shortly after 8pm. “These recommendations should not be new to any of you.”
“First of all Mr. Chairman, I take offense with the accusation that we are not prepared.”–Luisa Medina, commission member
Baines told members the recommendations had been out since Friday and members should have studied them over the weekend before the start of Monday’s meeting. “People should have been prepared to ask questions about a particular recommendation. But this is not a situation where any of us should have been seeing any of these recommendations for the first time.”
Luisa Medina, a commission member spoke up after Baines. “First of all Mr. Chairman, I take offense with the accusation that we are not prepared,” said Medina. “I can show you my questions and my comments on each and every one of these recommendations.”
Community Input Committee Recommendations
The community input committee went over a detailed phone survey done in conjunction with the Fresno State’s sociology department. Additionally, the group worked with the local advocacy group We Are Not Invisible, to administer paper versions of the survey to the homeless population of Fresno.
The committee’s top 5 findings are as follows:
- The city of Fresno should commit more than 3 months (the length of the reform commission’s mandate) to truly change how policing is done in Fresno.
- Not only is there a mistrust in police, but also with how the city handles community input on policing practices. There is an urge from community members for the city to follow up with changes based on local input rather than just sitting on data.
- The city of Fresno should refrain from using police officers to respond to non-threatening situations. (21% said they feel extremely uncomfortable calling police during these situations, 16% feel somewhat uncomfortable).
- The city of Fresno should not be spending general fund dollars to defend officers charged with misconduct.
- The Office of Independent Review needs some change and community outreach needs to be a priority within the office.
Police Oversight Committee Recommendations
The police oversight committee presented 29 recommendations.
The list included:
- City police should not be dispatched for calls relating to mental health or behavioral issues of a non-violent nature.
- Modern use of force policies expressly provide that the use of force should be minimized.
- Improving the culture of the Fresno police department. The committee pointed to a December 2015 survey that reported a culture of low morale at the department, particularly in the civilian and patrol units.
Community Development Committee Recommendations
The community development committee said the city of Fresno currently partners with Fresno County to provide the services of a Crisis Intervention Team to respond to crisis calls with a mental or behavioral health component.
The committee said the city council should form a workgroup and use the remaining two years of the CIT contract to develop a new, culturally appropriate model for responding to calls with a behavioral or mental health component tailored to the particular needs of the community and resources available in Fresno.
To create a better sense of community, community pride, and community awareness, the subcommittee said there is a need for building a bridge between community members and law enforcement.
Budget Committee Recommendations
The budget committee went through several recommendations on their list to finish off the meeting.
Some of them included:
- The city should expedite the installation/conversion of its financial reporting software in order to provide the public, with financial information that can be used to evaluate operational efficiencies and in a manner that is easily understood.
- The police department should conduct a staffing analysis to determine how much time is lost due to various leaves of absences for both sworn and civilian personnel that reduce the total staffing needed to adequately support the core functions of the department.
- An evaluation should be done of the types of calls and/or work currently being performed by sworn personnel and determine if utilizing Community Services Officers (CSO) would be a viable alternative.
The entire set of recommendations are found in the agenda document here.