Mayor promised to increase public’s trust with police. He now has a new police auditor

Newly hired Fresno police auditor John Gliotta, right, talks to reporters after he was introduced Wednesday by Mayor Lee Brand, left.
Newly hired Fresno police auditor John Gliotta, right, talks to reporters after he was introduced Wednesday by Mayor Lee Brand, left. tsheehan@fresnobee.com

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand took a step toward fulfilling one of his campaign pledges from last year, naming his appointees Wednesday to a new Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board and announcing the hiring of a new independent police auditor to work on building greater trust between the public and the city’s police force.

John Gliatta, a crime analyst with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office and 27-year veteran of the FBI in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., will take the job in the Office of Independent Review. He will fill the role on a full-time basis and reside in Fresno. Previous auditors have worked part-time and most recently lived out of state, reviewing complaints lodged by residents against police by way of a paper trail and after-the-fact interviews.

“We need to engage residents and bring them to the table,” Brand said, adding that he hopes Gliatta and the advisory board will “increase public trust in the police department (and) help make Fresno a safer place for citizens as well as the brave men and women who help protect us.”

The mayor said Gliatta brings “a national reputation for his exceptional organizational and analytical skills” to the new job.

Among his duties with the FBI, Gliatta was an assistant special agent in the Sacramento office and was in charge of criminal investigation units and satellite offices, including Fresno. He also was an assistant inspector with the FBI headquarters in Washington, handling internal affairs investigations that included agent-involved shootings. Gliatta has lived in Fresno for about 17 years.

The Fresno City Council earlier this summer approved upgrading the auditor position from a part-time job to full-time duty. The auditor will be expected to respond to major incidents and participate in the police department’s follow-up meetings related to those cases. Gliatta will monitor “critical incidents” including officer-involved shootings and allegations of excessive or unnecessary use of force, reporting results of investigations to the advisory board. The Office of Independent Review also evaluates complaints to the police department’s internal affairs unit to assess whether they have been thoroughly investigated.

Gliatta described himself as “a very straight shooter” who is determined to take an unbiased look at the police department’s operations and citizens’ complaints, and to treat residents’ concerns with “honesty and integrity.”

“I have an interest in making sure Fresno succeeds in the relationship between the community and the police department,” he said. “I’m not here to make friends (with police); I’m not here to make enemies. I’m just here to do what’s right.”

Citizens panel named

Gliatta will work hand-in-hand with Brand’s new public safety advisory board to review those major incidents; the board’s role will be to review policies and practices in such cases and make recommendations to the Office of Independent Review. The board also will provide advice on how the city can implement a community-based policing program.

Brand’s appointees to the nine-member board are:

▪ Business owner and board chairwoman Debbie Hunsacker

▪ Business consultant Avis Braggs

▪ Retired bank executive Vernon Crowder

▪ Financial services consultant Monica Diaz

▪ Ike Grewal, an analyst for Fresno County

▪ Attorney Amy Guerra

▪ Jim Parks, pastor of West Fresno Christian Center

▪ Student Michael Kou Vang

▪ Student Clifford Williams III

The advisory board will meet monthly, and the board and Gliatta will issue quarterly reports to the City Council and to the public on findings and recommendations related to police issues. The board’s focus will be on department policies and practices, rather than rendering judgment on whether individual officers acted properly or improperly in specific cases.

The men and women on the board reflect what Brand called “the rich diversity of Fresno” – a range of ages, ethnicities and career backgrounds, with at least one member from each of the seven City Council districts. Brand said his goal for the board is to “enhance trust, accountability and transparency and to promote a higher standard of service for the Fresno Police Department.”

Behind closed doors

Brand earlier this year cited lingering tensions in the community that followed the fatal police shooting of unarmed 19-year-old Dylan Noble during a traffic stop in June 2016. “We don’t want to be the next Ferguson,” he said in March, referring to racially charged riots over a police shooting in that Missouri city in 2014.

While transparency is one of Brand’s stated goals for the advisory board, the group’s monthly meetings will be held behind closed doors. The board’s structure, with members appointed solely by the mayor, means that it is not subject to the state’s open meeting laws.

“We decided it would be most effective to meet like a grand jury, in private, to get issues done, to not have distractions, and to then bring their findings and recommendations forward once a quarter,” Brand said. “There’s so much out there right now that it would be impossible to actually conduct a (public) meeting and get things done, and there’s a lot of stuff they’ll be discussing that’s confidential.”

Diaz, appointed to represent Council District 3 on the advisory board, said she hopes to “bring information to my community” and to serve as “a bridge between the police department and our groups.”

She said the biggest factor behind her interest in the advisory board “are the people who come into my office on a daily basis with their concerns.”

“Sometimes (the Latino community) has concerns that I can be the voice to bring that back, and to inform them that  there is a process for them to feel like it is safe for them to say what they feel,” Diaz said. “Families are afraid to come out.  They feel like there is perhaps no one who speaks on their behalf. I feel like I can be that bridge for them, to take their concerns back to the board, and at the same time I can bring information back to them.”