Committee votes 2-1 to send ordinance to full council
The Santa Barbara City Council Ordinance Committee got a first official peek Tuesday at a draft ordinance to assign additional civilian police oversight duties to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.
The duties include the ability to review both internal and external complaints about police conduct.
After 1½ hours of discussion, the committee amended the proposed oversight ordinance to include “red-line” changes suggested by a member of the Community Formation Commision. Committee members voted 2-1 to send the proposed ordinance to the full council for deliberation.
Councilmembers Kristen Sneddon and Oscar Gutierrez voted yes and Councilmember Mike Jordan voted no, partly because of concerns he had about limits for applicants with a law enforcement background.
Before the vote, new Police Chief Kelly Gordon and Barbara Andersen, senior assistant to the city administrator, talked about the benefits of the proposed police oversight ordinance.
“This is in fact historic,” Chief Gordon said. “We believe in the strength of community oversight. We’re committed to transparency.”
On June 6, the council directed staff to incorporate additional police oversight duties and authorities to the Fire and Police Commission. The proposed draft ordinance follows that direction. In addition to making policy and budget recommendations regarding the police and fire departments, the ordinance now specifies the type and frequency of reporting to the commission.
“This includes reports detailing the total number and type of internal and external complaints received and subsequent action taken, as well as the number of officers disciplined and the level of discipline imposed,” staff said in its report.
The commission will also review and discuss individual investigations in open session with the police chief, once investigations are disclosable under the California Public Records Act. Moreover, the police chief will make presentations to the commission regarding any officer-involved shootings. Those presentations will occur once the agency conducting such an investigation makes its determinations of findings.
The proposed ordinance also prioritizes community participation and engagement as a key component of strengthening understanding of the police and fire departments. Staff said it is critical to understanding the work that the departments do every day to ensure residents’ and visitors’ safety.
The ordinance includes rigorous training for commissioners as well as providing more opportunities for community input and education on departmental policies, procedures and practices.
Ms. Andersen told committee members that the ordinance is the result of 13 months of deliberation by council and staff, in consultation with various community stakeholders, the police department and members of the Community Formation Commission, which first proposed the creation of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.
“We worked almost two months on the draft,” Ms. Andersen said, followed by a 30-day public comment period during which staff received 54 comments. “This does not include people I talk to in my day-to-day work, which gave me a more authentic sense of how the criminal justice system operates.
“We are moving forward swiftly because we do not want to lose momentum,” she said.
As proposed, the newly constituted commission would consist of five members. The city will recruit all new commissioners this fall.
Former law enforcement officers would be allowed to sit on the commission, providing they did not serve in Santa Barbara County. Those with law enforcement careers who worked somewhere else could apply, as long as they have been off the job for seven years.
The ordinance also requires those who apply to have gone on ride-alongs with police officers, “the best way to understand” what they go through day to day, Ms. Andersen said.
Councilmember Jordan said he went on a ride-along on New Year’s Eve. “It is eye opening to see what law enforcement goes through.”
The only applicants that would be excluded would be law enforcement officers with sustained findings of serious misconduct.
All of the commission’s meetings would be held in council chambers and televised, and items would be discussed in open session.
Speakers on Tuesday, including retired Santa Barbara Interim Police Chief Bernard “Barney” Melekian, voiced support for the draft ordinance.
Councilman Jordan, however, said he was uncomfortable with what constituted “sustained findings of serious misconduct” despite attempts by Chief Gordon to define it precisely. Councilman Jordan explained he had concerns about how background checks of applicants would be conducted.
He also wanted to know how police would address misconduct by officers who participate in a law enforcement gang, even if it’s with members of another police department.
Chief Gordon said the department would use an outside investigator to handle those allegations.
Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez, who also went on a ride-along with police and extolled the value of such a learning experience, nevertheless objected that it be made a requirement. He said instead it should be encouraged.
Councilmember Sneddon questioned why applicants with law enforcement background in Santa Barbara County should be prevented from applying to sit on the board.
She also questioned the wisdom of limiting the board to just five members, noting any one of them could be a swing vote, and that if he or she happened to have a law enforcement background, even if it’s from out of the county, he or she still could be influenced by a linked police mentality.
“The perspective of a former law enforcement officer could be beneficial or detrimental,” Councilmember Sneddon said. “I don’t want to leave room for any type of bias that a decision is made one way or another. I don’t want it undermined by a public perception that anyone on there is skewing it in one direction or another.”
“It doesn’t protect the integrity of the process,” she said. “It’s very important to me to support true independence of this body.”
She also questioned the idea of police monitoring responsibilities being assigned to the City Administrator’s Office, as opposed to using an independent monitor.
The 2-1 vote ensures the full council will get a chance to weigh in on the draft ordinance and make changes.