City officials say they will unveil a draft ordinance aimed at increasing oversight of the Santa Barbara Police Department no later than Aug. 1.
Barbara Andersen, senior assistant to the city administrator, told the News-Press that releasing the proposed ordinance for a new civilian oversight system will trigger a 30-day public comment period, after which it will be sent to the city council ordinance committee for consideration and eventually to the full council for review and possible adoption.
“The perception from the outside is that it’s just bureaucratic inside, but we are so much more adaptive and responsible,” she said. “We’re really one team with one approach here. We want to do all that we can to ensure the safety of residents.”
The goal of the oversight process is “to audit functions over police performance and make sure there is a process for the community to lodge complaints and concerns about police conduct,” Rene Eyerly, assistant city administrator, told the News-Press.
The draft ordinance fulfills a recommendation by the Community Formation Commission that the council take steps to update and improve police department oversight and transparency.
It does that by enhancing the oversight duties and authorities of the existing Fire and Police Commission, Ms. Andersen said. “We’re reconstituting it. Not only will there be new commissioners, but the new ordinance will elevate their duties to be much more comprehensive as it comes to oversight.”
City officials plan to begin recruiting new commission members after the council adopts the draft ordinance. The council will then be asked to remove current commission members.
The new board will make its debut in January. And for the first time, the oversight commission will hold its meetings in council chambers, and the meetings will be televised, Ms. Andersen said.
The city has been receiving regular reports regarding civilian complaints and in response, has initiated an audit of the police department complaint process regarding the use of force, training and leadership, she said.
“All of that will come together in recruiting new commission members with new duties and responsibilities,” Ms. Andersen said.
The new commission will review the results of the audit, expected to be completed by late October, and “prioritize what they want to focus on,” she added. “They will be reviewing all complaints received, and will have access to confidential personnel records as it relates to complaints to review trends and patterns in the department.”
“My role will be stepping in as monitor.”
The city’s role will continue even after the commission gets to work, Ms. Andersen said. “We want to investigate further and do more analysis and incorporate that in the work plan for the following year so that residents know what’s going on.”
Ms. Andersen was hired two months ago to fill a new position dedicated to dealing with police oversight and transparency, as well as the city’s role in helping Santa Barbara’s homeless population.
“Her position will be shepherding and providing oversight to make sure everything is handled properly,” Ms. Eyerly said.
Ms. Andersen said the bulk of her professional career prior to joining the administration was spent working with law enforcement, particularly on oversight and transparency issues.
She said she experienced some tense relationships with first responders before winning their trust, but that she was welcomed with open arms in Santa Barbara.
“My experience has given me insight into how they function at their best, and also how law enforcement has a disproportionate impact on marginalized populations,” she said.
“We want to coordinate with community-based organizations to create the level of oversight and transparency that we want. I know the importance of trust-building and relationships. I was selected for this position based on my decades of work building those relationships.”