“There have been a large amount of community complaints about police misconduct. These include allegations of police brutality, racial profiling,” Angel Luevano, national vice president for the far west for the League of United Latin American Citizens, told the City Council on Nov. 10. “And consequently this has led to multiple lawsuits against the Antioch Police Department for violating the civil rights of community citizens.
“Clearly there is a disconnect between law enforcement and the residents. And historically this widening gap produces egregious violations of social justice when the deprivation of justice occurs. It drives people to desperation and civil unrest. This is bad for the community, bad for city government and even worse for law enforcement. These problems can be prevented by working together to form a community police relations board.”
The City of Antioch is being sued by several African-American women who allege that Antioch police engaged in racial discrimination in their efforts to get the women removed from the Section 8 subsidized housing program. City officials have denied the charges, saying that the police were responding to complaints from residents about problem neighbors and not targeting any group. The lawsuits are currently working their way through the courts.
Luevano said that the oversight board could meet monthly to also discuss the Neighborhood Watch program, school security, new police policies and procedures and the selection of a new police chief.
Police Chief Jim Hyde is retiring on Monday, Nov. 30. He plans to undergo shoulder surgery, and has proposed to city officials that he be rehired in February after he’s recuperated. By participating in the city’s Retire and Rehire Program, he saves the cash-strapped city budget the cost of his salary for two months, thereby saving two police positions from being cut, he said via e-mail. The city has already laid off 10 community service officers this year.
But there might be disagreement on whether Hyde should be rehired in February, given Luevano and Moore’s request that the oversight board be formed soon in order to provide input into that decision. Luevano’s request was supported by George Van Hasselt, president of the East County Democrats for Action, who also asked for the hiring of more African-American and Latino police officers.
“I believe that these representatives really are the voice of tens of thousands of people in this community,” said Moore. “It would be remiss of this council not to heed their advice. The request for an oversight committee as well as a committee to engage in the selection process (for a police chief) is appropriate and needed, Mr. Mayor. Let’s move forward (to form) a group that is community-based that has laymen in there giving their input for solutions to this community.”
Moore was supported by Councilwoman Mary Rocha, who said, “I’m interested in what this (oversight board) ordinance carries. I do believe there should always be community involvement whenever possible. The school district does it very well in having each school have its own representation.”
But council members Brian Kalinowski and Martha Parsons did not say anything about the request during the meeting. Kalinowski did not respond to requests to comment in the past week. Parsons said via e-mail last week that she needs more information and does not feel comfortable commenting due to concerns about the Brown Act.
At the meeting Mayor Jim Davis told Luevano that he would read the oversight board ordinance Luevano handed to the council and discuss it with City Manager Jim Jakel and City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland “and we will go from there. I’m not sure of the time. We will give it consideration.”
But that tepid response did not satisfy Moore, who asked to be involved in forming the oversight board. “I think it’s important that the whole of the community is represented,” he said. “I’m not saying I represent the whole of the community, but I think I represent one portion of this community that has for years not had its voice heard. So I want to repeat myself that I fully intend to participate in this process as we work toward an ordinance that works for the city of Antioch, and a process of hiring the next chief of police that is more inclusive.
“I had the opportunity to see this in Berkeley recently where the clergy, business owners and various interest groups in the community were all invited to the table. It was a very inclusive process. When you bring the community together in this process, I believe you get a product at the end of the day that meets the goals of the community.
“We’ve heard some concerns tonight (about police abuse and racial profiling). We’ve heard those concerns for a long time. So now it’s time to put that baby to bed. I think the way we do that is through an open, transparent process that has all stakeholders at the table. I think the community will be very appreciative of that. And we will gel more as a community in that process.”
Davis responded to Moore that he wants to discuss the request with Jakel and Nerland “so that we can start scheduling the meetings. You would be included.” Davis said via e-mail Monday that Hyde “will return as a contract chief for the remainder of the fiscal year (through June 30, 2010). The City Council and city manager will be discussing a recruitment strategy. I cannot comment on a police oversight committee until we look into this issue further.”
Hyde said via e-mail that Nerland is “studying the legality” of forming an oversight board. He added, “Mr. Moore’s comments were surprising to myself, other city staff and community members in attendance. I hope to return and continue serving the city, the department and the Antioch community. I love the Antioch community.”
No one at the meeting noted that Antioch already has a civilian committee providing input to the police: the Crime Prevention Commission. More than 50 people attended a recent meeting of the commission that Hyde called “a great model of citizen input.”
The police also provide information to, get input from and work with residents through the monthly Coffee with the Cops program, monthly neighborhood cleanups, the Youth Intervention Network, the REACH Project and the Antioch Police Activities League.
Davis said via e-mail that the existing commission “does an excellent job for us. Why (do) we need two?”
Former Councilman Arne Simonsen said that Antioch already has “civilian oversight of the police department. It’s called the City Council, which is elected by the voters of Antioch. If you look at other examples of police commissions where they have oversight like internal affairs review of the police department – San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland – they are loony bins, they are a zoo.
“The ones that are proposing this, I think, are doing it with the wrong motives. I am adamant that the procedures we have currently are appropriate and we don’t need to have civilian oversight of the police department.”
Luevano told the council that he expects a report from the council at its Dec. 8 meeting on the city’s plan of action to form the oversight board.