For four months, Oliver Baines held his emotions in check while leading a 39-member commission on the contentious issue of police reform.
A former councilman and Fresno police officer, Baines was asked to guide the city through a process aimed at addressing issues that have been simmering for decades.
After the commission adopted its final report on Thursday, he let his guard down — his voice breaking repeatedly as he offered almost nine minutes of impassioned and personal commentary about the effort he has overseen.
“I’ve got to compose myself. This was an emotional ride for me…for a lot of reasons,” Baines said as his voice quavered and he shifted in his chair. “I’ve been worked up all day about this,” he said.
“As a Black man growing up in American, it’s in our DNA to be afraid of the police.” — Police Reform Commission Chair Oliver Baines
Baines said he had talked to a few fellow panelists who had called him earlier in the day “about how emotional the process was of being a Black man in this country that I love, but have grown up (in) terrified of the police and … had my own bouts of police brutality.”
Reflecting on Personal Experience as a Black American
He paused several times throughout to steady his voice.
“And then to actually become a police officer,” Baines said. “And to reconcile that within me through this whole process has been tough. Really tough.”
He reflected on his youth, growing up in Los Angeles where, he said, he was routinely pulled over and searched for no justifiable reason.
“As a Black man growing up in American, it’s in our DNA to be afraid of the police,” Baines said. “I couldn’t even look at a police officer when I was a young man in fear of being pulled over or stopped or handcuffed.”
But Baines said his own decision to become a police officer in Fresno revealed to him a different side of the issue.
“I learned from the men and women of the Fresno police department, that there are good police officers. I didn’t think there were good police officers until I got here,” he said.
‘The Truth is Complicated’
Baines said he was committed to being honest in the report about the real tensions over policing in Fresno.
“But I wanted to tell the truth and the truth is complicated,” Baines said. “The truth isn’t black or white. It’s not pro police and anti-police. That’s not the truth. And I wanted this report to tell the truth.”
“I was depressed as a Black man in this country, watching another Black man be murdered. It killed me. Every time it happened, it killed me.” — Oliver Baines
“Our community deserves this work. We do. So many times in Fresno, we don’t think we deserve stuff. We deserve the best. We deserve the best police department in the country right here. We deserve it in Fresno,” Baines said.
Baines said this is just the first step.
“The (messages) that I got, people want to make sure that this community is together and not divided. It brought me to tears. That’s what we want here. And I think that we started the process. It’s not over. It’s far from over, but we started it,” Baines said.
‘I Needed This for Me’
He said that leading the commission helped him after the death of George Floyd.
“I was depressed as a Black man in this country, watching another Black man be murdered. It killed me. Every time it happened, it killed me. Every time. And I didn’t even know I was depressed until I was given this opportunity to do this work. I was depressed. I’m an eternal optimist, but this killed me. And I needed this. I needed this for me,” Baines said.
“I just appreciate all you guys from the bottom of my heart for the work that you put in, hundreds of hours that you guys committed to this for this community. This has been one of the most honorable things I’ve done since I’ve been in Fresno,” Baines said, holding back tears.
Watch: Oliver Baines Offers Emotional Comments on Police Reform
Police Union Leader Casts Lone ‘No’ Vote
The Commission on Police Reform voted 31-1 to approve its report.
A presentation to the city council could come as soon as next Thursday.
Todd Frazier, president of the Fresno Police Officers’ Association, voted no. Others were either not present or were not audible during the roll call for the meeting held on Zoom.
The 292-page report is part history lesson, part recommendation and part charts and information. Many passages included the good and the bad about Fresno policing throughout the century.
A bulk of the debate and voting already took place by Oct. 20 regarding approving 73 recommendations. They ranged from forming a new police oversight committee, to budgeting, to use of force policies.
Most of the speakers, from the public to the 39-member board, offered praise and congratulations for the work performed.
“I enjoyed my time doing this. It was hard work. It was probably some of the most strenuous work I’ve ever done in my life. But the fact that we were able to bring forth all these wonderful things just — thank you,” member Keshia Thomas, also president of the Fresno Unified school board, said.
This was in contrast to prior meetings. When debating the proposed recommendations on Sept. 28, the commission debated and argued for than five hours.
Commission Formed After George Floyd Death
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and city council president Miguel Arias formed the committee after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent protests in Fresno and around the nation.
A peaceful protest in downtown Fresno drew more than 3,000 people. The event was organized by the Fresno State chapter of the NAACP. The group’s president, D’Aungillique Jackson, served on the reform commission.
She received an abundance of praise from many commission members. When mayor-elect Jerry Dyer spoke highly of her, she unleashed a huge smile.
Baines picked the remaining members of the commission and formulated the by-laws.
Initially, Arias gave the commission 90 days. After an appeal from Baines, the work was extended a month. Now, it will be up the council to adopt the recommendations.
Update on Money for Nonprofit Recommendation
The report also revealed how the commission members voted on the 73 recommendations.
In an update to a prior story, Sandra Celedon — president and CEO of non-profit Fresno Building Healthy Communities — abstained on a vote to spend $230,000 of city funds on a non-profit. Fellow commissioner Todd Frazier — president of the police union — questioned whether such a vote would be a conflict of interest.
Ashely Rojas, who operates Fresno Barrios Unidos, voted in favor of the recommendation.
Those vote results became available when the city published the full report on Thursday.