During his Fresno mayoral campaign, Lee Brand promised to beef up the city’s independent police auditor position and to create a public safety advisory board.
He made the vow after hearing from citizens and community groups, who offered specific criticisms of the Fresno Police Department. Among them: Some officers were too quick to fire their weapons; some department members engaged in racial profiling, and Police Chief Jerry Dyer was slow to implement community-based policing.
Since becoming mayor, Brand and his staff have worked on creating the Citizens’ Public Safety Advisory Board. He unveiled it March 9 in a meeting with the editorial board.
“We’ve got one of the most unique public advisory boards in the nation; I don’t think there’s anything quite like it,” Brand said. “It’s based on a review of best practices of cities, counties and states across the country, extensive collaboration with the police chief, with the district attorney, with the (Fresno Police Officers Association) and a lot of community leaders.”
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While it is premature to judge Brand’s assessment, the plan appears to be well thought out and worthy of support from the Fresno City Council.
In Fresno’s strong-mayor form of government, Brand has the power to create and appoint the board without council backing. But he is asking the council to approve a resolution supporting the idea. The vote is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday. We encourage council members to offer ideas for making the board better.
The goal of the grand jury-like, nine-member board, according to its bylaws, is to:
“Enhance trust, accountability and transparency, and promote higher standards of services in the Fresno Police Department. This will increase public confidence in the Police Department and work to strengthen and ensure the application of equal protection under the law for all citizens in the city of Fresno.
“More trust and public confidence in the Police Department will help make our police officers safer and more effective in the performance of their duties.”
Brand made it clear that he is raising the bar for police performance. He talked about his eight years as a city councilman and seeing the drain on the General Fund created by successful lawsuits against the city resulting from police officers’ actions.
So, by what mechanisms would Brand’s goals be accomplished? We believe that a big change coupled to the board’s creation will have the most immediate impact. Brand proposes to elevate the part-time independent police auditor to a full-time position and to require that person to live in Fresno.
As originally envisioned, the independent police auditor was supposed to be the public’s eyes on police shootings and other serious investigations. That has never come to full fruition because Rick Rasmussen, the current independent police auditor, was a part-time hire who lived out of the area.
To make that change, Brand will need council approval. So today’s vote, although symbolic, could provide a signal as to where the council stands on funding a full-time independent police auditor.
The board, meanwhile, will be entrusted with serious duties. These include:
▪ Reviewing critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings, excessive-force cases or racial profiling, to recommend policies and practices to the independent police auditor.
▪ Advising the police auditor in developing a community-based policing program.
▪ Developing and monitoring performance standards to measure the effectiveness of community-based policing.
Brand told the editorial board that his nine appointees will represent the city’s vast racial, social and economic diversity. Members will be required to go through training classes to better understand various aspects of a police officer’s job.
In addition, the board will be advised by five non-voting members: the independent police auditor, an appointee by the police chief, one member from FPOA, one from the mayor’s office, and one from the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.
Finally, Brand pledged to review the board’s work after one year and make changes, if needed, to enhance its performance. That’s smart.
We commend the mayor for his efforts to build a stronger bridge between the police department and the community it serves, and to keep all of us, including police officers, safer.