One person has responded already to the city of Santa Barbara’s open invitation for people to apply for a seat on the newly reconstituted Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.
And several others could be right behind.
Shelly Cone, the city’s public information officer, told the News-Press Monday that the site to accept applications went live on Thursday afternoon, and “so far we have had 21 views and received one application.”
“We will be doing extensive community outreach until the deadline of Nov. 10, including informational presentations to community groups, email outreach to community leaders and their networks, as well as encouraging word-of-mouth to recruit individuals that represent unique and diverse life experiences,” Ms. Cone said. “This is in addition to our regular outreach methods of posting on social media, to our subscriber list, in our weekly newsletter and on our website.”
The Santa Barbara City Council took a historic first step last week to create a civilian oversight system with a unanimous vote to adopt an ordinance assigning additional oversight duties and authorities to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.
“We are creating, with the passage of this ordinance, a framework,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said at the time. “It is the single most significant step toward meaningful civilian oversight in our city’s history. That is a big, big deal.”
Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez acknowledged at the meeting that there is still work to do on building trust and strengthening the community, which is why she helped bring forward the initial proposal that ultimately led to the night’s vote.
She said that since she has been on the council, she has advocated for better access to law enforcement in underserved areas. She also noted she supported the opportunity for commissioners to join police in a ride-along in order to have a better understanding of law enforcement.
“I think for any profession that’s going to be having an oversight committee looking after them or judging them, I think it’s out of respect you put yourself in these law enforcement shoes,” she said.
During its deliberations, council members took pains to ensure that former firefighters and law enforcement officers could apply for a position on the board. The council opted to take advantage of their up-close and personal experience fighting fires and responding to dangerous situations in their efforts to save others.
Some people had questioned whether there might be at least a perception of bias on the part of former law enforcement officers because of their ties to colleagues they consider as close as family members. They proposed that former officers who worked in Santa Barbara County be banned from applying, as well as former officers who worked outside the county unless they were off the force for at least five years.
The council, however, rejected that idea, echoing the sentiments of several speakers at last week’s council meeting.
At the same time, council members encouraged those who have had negative experiences at the hands of law enforcement — minorities in particular — to apply for a commission seat, saying the five-member board could benefit from their point of view.
“In determining the desirable qualifications of the members of the commission, the City Council intends to promote diversity, fairness and equity among the commission’s membership by assuring it is inclusive and reflective of life and professional experience, race, ethnicity, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, economic status, neighborhoods and various communities of interest in the city,” according to the ordinance.
“Toward that end, in soliciting applications for the position of a commission member, the City Administrator’s Office shall reach out to civic, community, and civil rights organizations, among others to leverage their expertise, outreach and representation of cross-sections of the community.”
Under the ordinance, the council will also take into consideration a board member’s personal, professional and academic experience, as well as the member’s history of working with local government entities and/or nonprofits.
Nevertheless, not everyone can apply.
Under the ordinance, the following persons are not eligible to serve as a commissioner:
— Any individual or attorney who represents a person or entity with a pending claim or lawsuit against the fire or police department, or any of their officers or employees.
— Any current or former law enforcement officer or firefighter, or where relevant or comparable, any member of the public, who has a sustained finding of serious misconduct made by any law enforcement agency, independent investigator contracted by a public agency or court.
The ordinance defines such “serious misconduct” as:
— Unreasonable or excessive force or an unjustified officer involved shooting.
— Failure to intervene against another officer using force that is clearly unreasonable or excessive.
— Conduct including, but not limited to, verbal statements, writings, online posts, recordings and gestures involving prejudice or discrimination against a person on the basis of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status.
— An unlawful arrest or an unlawful search.
— Sexual assault involving a member of the public.
— Dishonesty directly related to the reporting, investigation or prosecution of a crime or an investigation of misconduct by another officer.