Last year, a special committee recommended 73 ways to reform the Fresno Police Department in the wake of local and national protests over law enforcement practices.
Now, a new 8-member board will help carry out those suggestions.
The original reform committee, created last year after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, met for four months crafting proposed changes to Fresno PD policies and systems.
Among the top recommendations were establishing an oversight board, strengthening the existing Fresno Office of Independent Review and making changes to the way local police respond to mental and behavioral health related calls for service.
The implementation team (the term used by the city, as opposed to “committee”) was created by an act of the council last November, when it also accepted the recommendations of the Committee on Police Reform.
Oliver Baines, who chaired the CPR and was also named to the implementation team, says many of the 73 recommendations are already in place.
“There are a number of them that can be done directly with the police department already,” Baines said. “There’s another set that has to have some policy implications that council and the administration may have to work on.”
Baines estimates his team will work on 31 items, which equals 42% of all recommendations.
“I look forward to working with that group,” Mayor Jerry Dyer said at Thursday’s Fresno City Council meeting. “I want folks to know that there has been a lot of work done behind the scenes.”
Dyer said Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama is in the process of implementing 23 of the recommendations directly.
Full Implementation in a Year, Says Baines
Baines said he learned a key lesson chairing the 39-member reform committee — break the work into smaller groups. He plans to do the same with his eight-member implementation team.
“My thought for doing that was because it was 39 folks… you’ve got to kind of manage all the people. But then I realized it was just effective. My plan is to do something similar this time. There’ll be a lot more collaboration with staff, of course,” Baines said.
Although Baines is not the team’s chairman, he is the de facto leader based on his experience as a former councilman, police officer and chairman of the CPR.
Details on how often the team will meet are still being worked out. The meetings will be open to the public and subject to the state’s open meeting laws. Members will have to file financial disclosure forms.
“There are a few (recommendations) that are heavier than others. Some of them will go quicker, to be fair. But I think total time, if I were being honest about what I think it is going to take, probably about a year. I think that’s the proper expectation,” Baines said.
Picking the Committee
The legislation establishing the team contained nothing specific about bringing the nominations for a vote by council and apparently they were appointed without any public scrutiny.
Each council member picked a member of the implementation committee, with Mayor Jerry Dyer also making a selection.
The implementation team members are Baines, Marcel Woodruff, Robert Oliver, Sandra Celedon, Michael Vasquez, D’Aungillique Jackson, Jacky Parks and Pedro Navarro Cruz.
Baines, Woodruff, Oliver, Celedon and Jackson served on the larger reform commission.
“I think it actually is a good mix. I was initially concerned that not everybody was from the commission because there’s going to be a learning curve. And this exercise won’t be one of debating philosophy or what the recommendations are. It’s just going to be taking the recommendations and marching down the road to implementation,” Baines said.
Woodruff is an an organizer with Faith in the Valley. Celedon is the president and CEO of Fresno Building Healthy Communities. Oliver is a retired Fresno County Superior Court judge who returned to private practice.
Jackson is a student at Fresno State, recently winning election as the student body president. She is credited with organizing a peaceful local rally last year in the wake of Floyd’s death that inspired the formation of the committee.
Parks is a Fresno police officer and the former union president of the Fresno Police Officers’ Association. Vasquez works for the Fresno County Department of Social Services. Navarro Cruz is a community organizer.
Dyer said the group already had an informal meeting, with four members attending. Because a majority of members did not participate, the meeting did not technically violate the state’s open meeting laws, the Brown Act.