Citizen's Police Review Board Gets Dismantled

Officer: SCPD, City Council
Charge: dismantling citizen's police review
Date: March 22, 2003
Location: City Council Chambers, Santa Cruz

From the Santa Cruz Metro (now the Santa Cruz Weekly) February 5, 2003:

The Final Fig Leaf Falls

Last week, the Santa Cruz City Council whacked the Citizen Police Review Board in a 7-0 vote that left local progressives worrying what political direction our town is headed.

"This does not bode well for progressive politics," said ex-Mayor Chris Krohn. "Nowhere that I know of is citizen review going away. Citizens want someone to be there, besides the police, if they have a complaint."

Formed in 1994 to handle allegations of police misconduct, the CPRB agreed in over 90 percent of cases with the findings of the police, which led to its own supporters calling it "a fig leaf" that was "structured to be a rubber stamp."

And while SCPD Chief Steve Belcher claimed that serious discipline is typically not the result of citizen complaint but issues that police supervisors bring up, CPRB chair (now in exile) Mark Halfmoon complained that the city never gave the board any power to seriously address police abuse.

At last week's council meeting, a suited Krohn showed up to read from a letter also signed by Celia Scott, Ben Rice, Bernice Belton, Jeffrey Smedberg, Ann Simonton, Marvin Kaplan, Sandy Brown and John Malkin.

"The current auditor model now before the city council has not been sufficiently assessed by the greater Santa Cruz community. If we are to move to a different model of police review, it must be a community-based model which offers ample opportunities for our residents to interface in that dialogue," Krohn read.

An emotional Halfmoon said he felt insulted and disrespected that the council had not met with CPRB members or returned calls before the cuts--a situation for which the council apologized profusely.

But they did not respond to Halfmoon's suggestion that butchering the CPRB was a racially motivated move (he and vice chair Brent Fouse are both black, which is a first in CPRB history), though Mayor Emily Reilly later clarified that the push to disband the board predated Halfmoon's membership.

"We've been talking since 2000 about changing the board to some other form, and I'm encouraging CPRB members to continue giving me perspectives and information on what would work," said Reilly, adding that the model that will replace the board is still in transition.

"We have rescinded the ordinance about citizen review, which is different from community oversight, but there is definitely a need for the council to remain involved with police policy."

One frequent criticism of the CPRB was that it was inundated with "frivolous complaints," but as a freshly executed Halfmoon told Nüz, "A complaint, by nature, can't be frivolous. You need to hear it out to assess whether it merits more attention."

Ex-CPRB member Dan Alper agrees.

"For the person the situation happened to, the complaint is serious. The person the city has chosen as auditor, Bob Aarenson, is a good guy, but as an MIT grad and Stanford lawyer, is he going to be sensitive to the people of Santa Cruz?"

Reilly hopes the City Council will become the CPRB's new ear.
"That's why we are calling it an independent auditor/City Council model at this point. If people have a complaint, they need to make it formally, but the city can do a better job of encouraging people to give feedback. I call that customer service," she says.

But ex-CPRB chair John Malkin, who was instrumental in creating the board nine years ago, believes "progressives have lost a round in a political battle with people who are armed and command 30 percent of the city's total budget. The police never wanted this board. Now they have succeeded in making it not exist. Had the board been seen as [a] necessity, ways would have been found to fund it."

As for the budget, whacking the CPRB saves $60,000, with $30,000 of expenses retained to pay auditor Aarenson. An estimated $15,000 in police overtime for the CPRB has not yet been formally cut.

And this is just round one of the budget cuts ...


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