Two years ago, during the annual Ruby McKnight Williams awards dinner, the Pasadena branch of the NAACP honored Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez with its Presidentâ€™s Award. The following year, Chief Sanchez was invited back to the banquet to serve as master of ceremonies. The record of professionalism, integrity, sensitivity and community concern that earned Chief Sanchez recognition by the local NAACP in 2011 and 2012 remain hallmarks of his leadership in 2013. That record undermines the unfounded and misleading inferences that have been made regarding the chiefâ€™s involvement in five police shootings when he served in another city roughly 20 years ago.
City officials who vetted him for the Pasadena Police Departmentâ€™s top job in 2010 were aware that Sanchez had been connected to five officer involved shootings during his 30-year career with the Santa Monica Police Department. They also knew that Sanchez had been cleared of wrongdoing in each case and had been cited for valor in saving lives in at least one of the incidents.
Most of the general public learned these facts a couple of weeks ago after a video of Chief Sanchez discussing the shootings was posted anonymously on YouTube. The 23-minute clip was excerpted from an on-camera deposition that Sanchez gave to attorney Caree Harper who is representing the family of police shooting victim Kendrec McDade in a lawsuit against the PPD and the City of Pasadena. Harper repeatedly asks Chief Sanchez if, given his history, he is capable of objectively evaluating police shootings. Sanchez consistently replies that he is and has done so.
In the wake of this videoâ€™s sudden and mysterious appearance, some community leaders have renewed calls for a non-governmental board to review uses of force by Pasadena police officers. The City Council has voted down such proposals in the past, asserting that the Public Safety Committee (which is composed of four council members) provides adequate civilian oversight of the police department. This is a valid position by our elected officials (who are accountable to the voters) and nothing in the deposition video clip alters that equation. The fact that Sanchez lawfully fired his weapon five times as a policeman in Santa Monica does not negate the soundness of his judgment as Pasadena Police Chief, nor does it make additional oversight of the police department necessary.
The professionalism and sensitivity with which Chief Sanchez has addressed use of force by officers under his command is a matter of record. In addition to the mandated evaluations by the police departmentâ€™s Use of Force Review Board (comprised of police officers and lawyers from the City Attorney’s Office) and the City Councilâ€™s Public Safety Committee, Chief Sanchez invited the Los Angeles County District Attorneyâ€™s Office, the County Officeof Independent Review (OIR) and the FBI to look into the McDade tragedy. The OIR and FBI probes are ongoing, but the DA and Public Safety Committee concurred with the PPDâ€™s determination that officers acted lawfully when they fired at Kendrec McDade. The conclusion of these two independent bodies â€“ one composed of county legal professionals, the other by elected officials who are accountable directly to the voters — validates Chief Sanchezâ€™s judgment.
Agreeing with the police departmentâ€™s Use of Force Review Board does not mean that the Public Safety Committee has failed in its responsibility to the public. Such agreement may mean that the police departmentâ€™s conclusion â€“ painful though it may be to face â€“ was correct. This is also why the District Attorney agreed.
Suggesting that the Public Safety Committee is incapable of monitoring the police department merely because its members sit on the City Council is simply wrong. While grilling Chief Sanchez in his videotaped deposition, Caree Harper characterizes members of the Public Safety Committee not as public servants beholden to their constituents, but as â€œpoliticiansâ€ who use the City Council â€œas a stepping stoneâ€ and who will not â€œcomment on a shooting in their district so they can get promoted to the assembly.â€ Such sweeping and unproven allegations along with accusations by some activists who claim that the Public Safety Committee is a â€œrubber stampâ€ for the police department unfairly impugn the integrity of our elected City Council members (including Pasadenaâ€™s highly-respected Vice-Mayor, Jacque Robinson, who chairs the Public Safety Committee) all of whom must answer to voters. Unfounded character attacks are anemic and dishonorable substitutes for legitimate argument.
Whoever posted that video excerpt from Chief Sanchezâ€™s deposition on YouTube almost certainly did so to inflame the public, damage the chief and put City Hall on the defensive in an effort to tip the balance in the ongoing civil action surrounding the Kendrec McDade tragedy. But the revelations about Chief Sanchezâ€™s past (which were known to the City at the time of Sanchezâ€™s hiring) do not cancel out his excellent service record or his honorable and sensitive leadership of the Pasadena Police Department.