Fresno should form a new civilian oversight board to monitor the police department which would include full access to police investigation files, says a key recommendation from the city’s police reform commission.
The proposed Civilian Oversight Board would be made up of between 11 and 13 members and would have the ability to compel interviews and documents from the department as well, the draft report from the Fresno Commission on Police Reform recommends.
The commission is scheduled to finalize the report’s 73 recommendations on Thursday, though members approved all of them in private voting that concluded Oct. 20, chairman Oliver Baines said.
List of 73 Recommendations
The report will then be forwarded to the Fresno City Council to decide next steps.
“I’m pleased with the effort of the commission,” Baines said. This was an incredibly difficult task. This should not be viewed as the end of anything, but really the beginning.”
Reform Board Wants Civilian Oversight Board
“I’m pleased with the effort of the commission. This was an incredibly difficult task.” — Reform board chairman Oliver Baines
The first six recommendations in the commission’s report deal with the formation of the civilian oversight panel, with members nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council with a two-thirds vote.
The COB would replace the Citizens’ Public Safety Advisory Board, a group formed by Mayor Lee Brand in 2017. They were tasked to meet regularly and offer recommendations quarterly to the council. The board last met in July, but according to council minutes, the group has not made a presentation since June 2019.
The reform commission said the mayor’s group was not able to effect changes to policing policies.
“The Citizens’ Public Safety Advisory Board (CPSAB) was not given sufficient authority to perform effective citizen oversight, and its relationship to the OIR was not sufficiently defined from the outset. As a result of these flaws, CPSAB was not an effective tool for civilian oversight of the Department,” a CPR document used for voting on the recommendations said.
The proposed Civilian Oversight Board would be managed by police reviewer John Gliatta, who runs the city’s Office of Independent Review.
The new civilian board would review use of force findings, police disciplinary actions, training practices and public complaints. The board would also provide input on police chief hiring, the effectiveness of special policing units, and the department’s budget.
The board’s meetings would be open to the public.
Strengthening Office of Independent Review
Under the commission’s proposal, the existing OIR would also be strengthened beyond its current role. The commission wants Gliatta to have full access to police investigation files and the ability to compel interviews and documents from the police.
“The OIR was supposed to be based upon ‘the key principles of independence; fairness, integrity and honesty; transparency; participation of stakeholders; acceptance, cooperation and access; and obedience to legal constraints.’ However, OIR exists within the City Manager’s Office and lacks the independence and powers need to conduct independent neutral investigations and evaluations of the Department,” the CPR ballot said.
Money for Community-Based Organizations
The commission wants the city to partner with an unnamed community-based organization to focus on addressing safety and quality of life issues in older neighborhoods of the community.
“The City and the selected CBO will convene a team responsible for developing and initiating a comprehensive and strategic plan to improve the overall safety, health, and wellbeing of the community, leading to the prevention of issues such as Family Violence, Gang Violence, and Sex Trafficking,” the CPR said.
The commission recommends allocating about $230,000 a year to the partnership. The report also says some police department grant funding should be redirected to community based programs and ‘preventative’ intervention efforts.
A Conflict of Interest?
“Absolutely it is (a conflict of interest). And that’s what’s distressing about the whole process.” — Reform board member and police union president Todd Frazier
Several members of the reform commission are also employed by CBO’s including vice-chair Sandra Celedon, CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities and Ashley Rojas, executive director of Fresno Barrios Unidos. Both groups have recently received city contracts for COVID-19 related services.
Commission member Todd Frazier — president of the police union — says this may be a conflict of interest.
“Absolutely it is (a conflict of interest). And that’s what’s distressing about the whole process,” Frazier said. “You have folks that were supposed to be on this commission and to give their insights as to police reform and the changes to how we conduct law enforcement who are making recommendations and who have made recommendations on certain repurposing or defunding of money in the police budget … obviously their organizations have their hands out that would deliver services for that money. And so obviously, there’s a great concern.”
Baines denied such a conflict exists because no CBO was specifically named.
“We didn’t say we’re going to direct money to Building Healthy Communities and then have Building Healthy Communities vote on it. There’s no conflict there. They run the CBO and the policymakers ultimately on the city council decide where money is directed, not anyone sitting on this commission doing a recommendation. There’s no conflict,” Baines said.
GV Wire℠ reached out to Celedon and Rojas but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.
No More Mental Health Calls
The report recommends that police “should not be dispatched for calls relating to mental health or behavioral issues of a non-violent nature.”
Behavioral health and other professionals should respond to mental health and non-violent homeless calls. This also includes city funding for such professionals and “critical bed space for behavioral treatment facilities for juveniles and adults that respond to community needs.”
Patrol officers should not respond to low-risk non-criminal calls or property related crimes beyond 24 hours either, the report says.
Use of Force
The commission also recommended stronger use of force guidelines. Specifically, the department should use de-escalation techniques and other alternatives, and “shall only use physical force when no other viable option is available.” Deadly force should only be used to protect human life, the report says, and verbal warnings should be given where possible.
The commission also voted to completely ban the use of carotid restraints or chokeholds, but noted that a state law passed earlier this year now prohibits the practice.
No More Police in Schools
The recommendations call for the city to no longer contract with school districts to provide on-campus police or resource officers.
“It is not clear what problem(s) that the SRO and SRNO programs were intended to correct,” the recommendation states. “Research has shown that the increased presence of law enforcement in schools results in increased citations and arrests of students for minor offenses, causing lasting harm to youth and putting students at higher risk of becoming involved in the justice system. The Department’s Tobacco Grant empowers the Department to conduct school site inspections before, during, and after school to seek underage students to cite.”
Also, the city should reduce the rates it charges to provide officers to the Fresno and Central school districts to align with what the department charges private businesses for contract services. School districts are currently charged almost 14% more for officers than businesses are charged, the commission says.
The CPR also says the city and schools should invest more into neighborhood development, including infrastructure improvements, after-school programs and job creation efforts “to create long-term neighborhood safety.”
The commission offered suggestions on police culture, discipline and hiring/promotions.
Recommendations include recruiting more female and minority candidates, removing any barriers to hire that may exist.
When it comes to budgeting, the commission “suggests mitigating the influence of the Police union (FPOA) regarding our City budget and administrative decisions in our City.”
Frazier, FPOA’s president, disagreed.
“It’s another ridiculous recommendation. When we negotiate with the city, it’s for pay and benefits and working conditions and grievances and how to handle grievances. There’s nothing in there that dictates how the city or the police department dictates and how they do business,” Frazier said.
While the report finds there are enough officers to meet the city’s General Plan goals — 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents — there are staffing issues because of sick time and training. More utilization of community service officers is one suggestion.