Photo by Steve Bott via Flickr Creative Commons

Let’s Get It Right This Time!

Once again, Fresno is the only major city in California with no civilian police oversight—after more than 10 years of effort and support from more than 50 organizations, thousands of individuals, the Fresno Bee, the Fresno County Grand Jury, two mayors and Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. The City of Fresno has no independent reviewer of police actions and now also no independent investigations of police shootings as well, because the District Attorney’s Office has stopped performing that function and the Office of Independent Review (OIR) was never given the power to do investigations, but only to review police operations, deal with citizen complaints and make recommendations for improved police practices.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin kept her promise, and Eddie Aubrey was hired to head the OIR in the fall of 2009. But the promise of a staff of three, including one person to handle outreach to the community, turned out to be one part-time secretary shared with other departments, there was no office available and no mention on the city’s Web site.

By January 2010, there was an office space, a secretary and a Web site. But in February, when the DA announced that she would no longer do investigations of police shootings, it was discovered that cases since 2004 were still waiting to be dealt with. Aubrey assisted the Fresno Police Department (FPD) in working with the DA’s office to wrap up reports on 40 unresolved investigations in addition to handling citizen complaints, monitoring police internal review cases, setting up his office and doing outreach to community organizations.

Aubrey’s first public report to the City Council was released in October 2010 and made significant suggestions for improving the handling of complaints. The mayor indicated that she was generally pleased with the draft, but as far as we know there has been no follow-up on the suggestions that were made.

His next report to the City Council was provided to the city manager in June 2011 but has never been released to the City Council or the public. We know it again contains specific recommendations for improving the complaint process and statistics about the nature and source of the complaints.

In fact, Aubrey had plans for a computer program that would track citizen complaints the minute they entered the system, either through internal affairs, the OIR, a general call to the FPD or a written complaint form; assign a number that could enable the complaint to be tracked as it went through the process; and acknowledge that it had been received and a given time for the response.

No! Aubrey has not taken a position in Seattle. In June, he was fired, along with his secretary, and the office was closed. The money went to fund a graffiti/prostitution prosecutor in the City Attorney’s office, and the elimination of the OIR position clears the way for Jacky Parks of the Police Officers’ Association to sign on to the 3% salary cut for police officers.

It was not supposed to be this way. The City Council and the public were supposed to have an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the OIR and determine if it was doing what was needed and expected or if adjustments needed to be made. Perhaps a citizens’ board would be formed to work with the OIR and give input from various ethnic groups or areas of the city. Aubrey was planning to visit the City Council districts to get some direct input from involved citizens.

Let’s get real. We need an independent evaluator/investigator who can oversee police practices and procedures, respond to citizens’ complaints and investigate police shootings, with subpoena power to call and question witnesses. Someone who is responsible to the City Council and cannot be fired by the whim of the city manager, who is also the boss of the police chief. This will require a budget that can support a competent and experienced investigator/auditor with a support staff of at least two. The City of Fresno needs and deserves this service at least as much as it needs a graffiti/prostitution attorney. Let’s get it right this time.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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