The Pleasanton City Council in a special meeting last week adopted updates to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and agreed to the implementation of the Police Chief's Advisory Board.
The special meeting was the fourth public session since summer when national policing policies came under scrutiny in the wake of the country’s civil unrest.
But the 4-1 council vote was not without its own share of discord.
Councilmember Julie Testa voted against the motion, holding out for what she hoped would be a more stringent and detailed acceptance of the terms of the proposed advisory board. She wanted to make sure there were stronger safeguards in place with the oversight committee due to three deaths at hands of police in four years. She also called for an Independent Police Auditor (IPA) to provide updates more than twice a year if deemed necessary.
Appointed by the city council, an IPA is an office separate from a police department. An IPA is authorized to take complaints concerning department employees from members of the public, provides another level of accountability to ensure complaints are fairly investigated and recommends modifications to the department's policy and procedures.
“We’re addressing real issues that affect Pleasanton and having an oversight committee doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be diligent to make sure that another fatality doesn’t happen,” Testa said. “Not only has there not been a complaint brought to the council in the last eight years, there has never been any police oversight on the part of the city council. In fact, on May 19 when I asked that there just be a discussion of tasers and body cams and a budget we were being asked to approve, Councilmember Pentin would not even agree to agendize the discussion. That he is now interested and supportive of these discussions is only because of social pressure and his campaign.”
While Testa reiterated her support for the police department and the work it is doing, she clashed with Mayor Jerry Thorne over what she called access to citizen complaints and the ability to deal with them.
“Again, I have been asking
for citizen complaints,” Testa said. “And mayor, when I asked you, I said I was frustrated because we were supposed to be the oversight (committee) and that we hadn’t received a report or anything. And mayor, you said to me there hasn't been a citizen complaint; and I asked you if you really believed that, and you said, ‘Yes.’”
Thorne stated that he was unaware of the conversation to which Testa referred.
Although Councilmember Karla Brown voted for the motion, she also expressed her frustration with the oversight process.
“I do support the police chief and having a citizen advisory committee, but I think that most residents that I have talked to are surprised that in eight years, I have never had any kind of oversight projects ever come to this council,” Brown said. “What’s missing is that we haven’t, and we need to implement one. And I believe we need to implement a policy. I just want to make sure (the) motion involves having a more involved city council. If we are going to be held accountable to the police department, then we actually need to be the oversight for that.”
Councilmember Jerry Pentin pointed out that part of the approved recommendation will provide community policing updates to the city council twice a year.
“And the city council has the opportunity to increase (the frequency of updates) if they feel they are necessary,” Pentin said. “And we have had updates. There are annual reports, and we had our former chief bring it to our council, so it’s really not true that we haven’t been updated in the past eight years. We have certainly been updated.”
The motion eventually passed with the understanding that the oversight committee will report to council twice yearly or more, as needed.
“The roles (of the committee) will have to be defined in a setting like this at some point in the future, up to and including what kind of reports are permitted to be given under state law,” said City Manager Nelson Fiahlo following the vote.
In December 2014, President Obama established a task force with the goal of identifying best practices and recommendations for police departments on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction, while building public trust. In May 2015, the task force released its findings in the final report of The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
The task force's report produced recommendations and action items that are organized around six main topic areas or pillars: Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Training and Education, and Officer Wellness and Safety.