The Community Formation Commission presented an update to the Santa Barbara City Council Tuesday during the council’s regular meeting. The commission’s primary request was for more public engagement during its meetings.
The 13-member commission is tasked with creating a plan for a civilian police review system in Santa Barbara. It plans to make its recommendations to the City Council in March.
Commission members review other municipalities’ civil oversight systems, accountability systems and the needs of Santa Barbara community members when forming ideas.
The committee’s chair Gabe Escobedo and vice chair Ana Zepeda asked members of the public to attend their meetings, make public comments and email the committee feedback.
“It took a lot for us to get here,” Mr. Escobedo said. “Many of us wrote letters, made public comments, we rallied and I can tell you it’s an amazing impact cause we’re here today.
“We pushed for change; we got our opportunity, but we need to stay engaged in the implementation process.”
Black-centered organization Healing Justice advocated for police oversight in the wake of national movements toward transparency and equity.
But not only does Healing Justice support the Community Formation Commission, council members pointed out Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian’s approval of the group.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon said the commission, while monitoring the practices of the Santa Barbara Police Department, isn’t degrading local officers.
“I’m really appreciating the messaging in this. It isn’t negative toward our police or our police department but is supportive and community-focused,” she said.
To help direct its mission, the commission has utilized the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, a nonprofit that helps individuals and officials form citizen oversight agencies.
“It is my opinion that the most important decision we’ve made is contracting with NACOLE. They are really the only organization in the country that has the on-the-ground experience of doing this work,” Mr. Escobedo said. “They are respected by all stakeholders, and we are fortunate to have them as a partner.”
The contract with NACOLE was approved by City Administrator Paul Casey and did not have to go through City Council to receive funding.
The Community Formation Commission anticipates the following expenses: hiring a survey firm, translation services costs, community outreach workers and the possible extension of the NACOLE contract.
Councilmember Meagan Harmon and Mr. Casey both noted the appropriate nature of the requests. Mr. Casey anticipates that the costs will need to go through council approval.
“I’ve been really clear, and I think everyone has this understanding that Council will make the resources available that are necessary,” he said.
Camme McEllhiney, NACOLE director of training and education, expressed confidence in the commission and its members.
“The wonderful thing about this commission is that they really want to do the work,” she said.
The commission is increasing its meetings from once to twice monthly, on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at 5:30 p.m.
It meets virtually but is considering meeting in-person.
The commission is meeting at 5:30 p.m. tonight to discuss oversight models. One of the commission’s committees will be presenting what it discovered during research.
To attend, go to attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3733986984414506509.
The commission is available via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and online at bit.ly/communityformationcommission.