The events in Ferguson MO over the past few weeks show the price a community pays when there is a lack of confidence between the police and the people in the neighborhoods they are policing. We have witnessed how the mishandling of the investigation of a tragic incident has profoundly widened the gulf that was already there. Other recent controversial deaths in Cleveland and New York City underline the fact that excessive use of force by police has become a national crisis.
We in Pasadena have come precariously close to such community distrust of the police because of the recent reluctance of law enforcement and City government to release public information in the Kendrec McDade case. The reassurance that we should simply trust the people investigating the case has not proven to be enough because the unwarranted secrecy of the process of investigation has also created suspicion.
A coalition of community organizations has spent the past year studying ways of bridging the trust gap and bringing greater transparency and accountability to our police department.* We have developed a proposal that we believe will create and institutionalize a better relationship between the community and its police force.
The major element of the plan is to establish an office of Independent Police Auditor (IPA), a professional independent contractor who answers directly to the elected members of the City Council. We have studied the Pasadena City Charter, and we believe it allows for such a structure of inquiry independent of the administrative bureaucracy. The Police Auditor would represent the civilian population of Pasadena in working cooperatively with the Police Department to help assure that accepted, constitutional policies and procedures are being followed in day-to-day law enforcement. IPA responsibilities would include reviewing the complaint process, soliciting input from diverse community groups, making policy recommendations, issuing periodic public reports and investigating critical incidents. In order to be effective, the Auditor would have to have unfettered access, within the law, to all relevant records and reports.
Once this structure is in place, when controversial incidents occur, the Police Auditor would be in a position to help assure the community that fair and just procedures are being followed, or that a channel for change exists if proper procedures are not being followed.
We have become convinced that adding such an office to Pasadena’s city
government will not only reassure the public that police activities are being carried out in a professional, just and equitable way, but will also strengthen the legitimate authority of the Police Department in fulfilling its law enforcement duties. We also believe that Pasadena has an opportunity to lead in taking bold, progressive action, while cities and other jurisdictions all over the United States are struggling to find a better way to do community policing.
More than twenty years ago, the Pasadena Police Department chose the expression â€œThe Pasadena Wayâ€ to describe its humanistic, values-oriented approach to enforcing the law. We believe it’s time to reaffirm that commitment by embracing the concept of an Independent Police Auditor to help the Department operate consistently in â€œThe Pasadena Way.â€
* CICOPP: the Coalition for Increased Oversight of Pasadena Police. Members include the NAACPs of Pasadena and of Altadena, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Greater Pasadena, the ACLU So. California /Pasadena/Foothills Chapter, ACT, the Pasadena Latino Forum, the Arroyo Democratic Club, the Foothill Democratic Club, to date.
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