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Brand proposes citizen board to review police incidents, improve trust in department

Mayor Lee Brand pitches new public safety advisory panel

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, in a meeting at The Fresno Bee, talks about how he will select members for his proposed Public Safety Citizens Advisory Committee. He said it will be empowered to examine critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings and allegations of excessive force and racial profiling.
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Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, in a meeting at The Fresno Bee, talks about how he will select members for his proposed Public Safety Citizens Advisory Committee. He said it will be empowered to examine critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings and allegations of excessive force and racial profiling.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand will seek the City Council’s support next week for his promised Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board, a nine-member panel that will conduct grand jurylike reviews of major incidents, such as officer-involved shootings.

The board will also examine policies and issue quarterly reports to the council and the public.

Brand rolled out details of his proposal in a meeting Thursday with The Bee’s 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 of his plan. “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,” including pastors and social justice advocates.

Brand’s goal in creating the board is to “enhance trust, accountability and transparency, and promote higher standards of services in the Fresno Police Department,” the mayor states in the proposed bylaws for the panel. “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,” the statement added.

Rebuilding public trust through the board’s review of officer shootings, excessive force or racial profiling “is a major step for a city that’s had a lot of problems over the years,” Brand said, noting some of the tensions in the community that followed the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old, Dylan Noble, during a traffic stop last summer. “We don’t want to be the next Ferguson,” the mayor added, referring to racially charged riots over a police shooting in that Missouri city.

The board will include nine voting members, who Brand pledged would reflect the demographic, economic and social diversity of Fresno. Once the committee is formed – most likely in late June, said Brand’s chief of staff, Tim Orman – it will be tasked with a number of duties, including:

▪ Reviewing critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings, excessive-force cases or racial profiling, to recommend policies and practices to the city’s Office of Independent Review, or police auditor. “It’s not to go after the officer, but to review the policies,” Brand said.

▪ Advising the police auditor in developing a community-based policing program.

▪ Developing and monitoring performance standards to measure the effectiveness of community-based policing.

“It empowers the citizens advisory board with real power, real teeth, to go out and investigate excessive force and racial profiling,” Brand said. But the board’s monthly meetings will not be open to the public, and members will have to sign confidentiality documents subject to prosecution. “It’s done in a grand jurylike setting.  We wanted to keep this where it can be done in a confidential setting, otherwise in other models in cities like Los Angeles, it can become very politicized and become a yelling match that doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Brand said he will appoint all nine of the board’s voting members – a mechanism to ensure that it doesn’t fall under the requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open-meeting law. He will ask the City Council members for recommendations for appointments.

If these are public meetings, based on what I’ve seen (as a councilman), there’s a lot of emotions around this issue; it’s really hard to get something done above all the anger and screaming.

Mayor Lee Brand, discussing his proposed Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board

“If these are public meetings, based on what I’ve seen in eight years (as a councilman) there’s a lot of emotions around this issue; it’s really hard to get something done above all the anger and screaming,” Brand said. “So I make the selections. I’ll appoint the chair and vice chair.”

The police auditor will be one of five nonvoting members to advise the board, along with an appointee by the police chief, one member from the Fresno Police Officers Association, one from the mayor’s office, and one from the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.

To serve on the board, prospective members must be at least 18 years old, live in the city and be registered to vote. Each member’s term will be four years. Members will also be required to go through training classes to better understand various aspects of a police officer’s job, including “perishable” skills such as firearms training; situation de-escalation and force options; and periodic patrol ride-alongs with police officers.

“These people are going to have a lot of responsibility,” Brand said. “They will have the eyes of somebody who knows what they’re reviewing.”

The organization of the board goes along with the mayor’s proposed restructuring of the Office of Independent Review. Currently, the police auditor is a part-time position, and the auditor lives out of state. Brand’s plan is to make the post a full-time job in which the auditor is required to live in Fresno.

“You have to be able to connect with the community and who you’re looking after,” Brand said.

And unlike the current OIR auditor, whoever fills the role will be expected to respond to critical incidents, such as officer-involved shootings, and participate in the department’s meetings related to those cases. The auditor will “actively monitor” officer-shooting, excessive force and unnecessary-use-of-force investigations “and report to the (citizens) board the results of the investigations,” according to Brand’s proposal. Exceptions would be information protected by the Police Officers Bill of Rights law.

The board and the auditor will issue quarterly reports to the City Council and the public on findings and recommendations related to police actions.

During Brand’s mayoral campaign last year, the Fresno Police Officers Association was opposed to his advisory committee proposal, but Brand said the union has since pledged not to oppose it when he goes to the City Council.

“The FPOA is a very strong lobby at City Hall, so it’s hard to get past them, but we did it,” Brand said.

Brand expects to bring his proposal to the council at its March 16 meeting.

“Technically, I don’t need City Council approval,” he said, “but I’m looking for their support.”

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