If anyone thought civilian oversight of Pasadena police was going to happen overnight, think again.
In fact, the first public unveiling of any plans for a citizen review board won’t happen until mid-August — 60 days. By then, the City Council will have had an opportunity to hear from the public and review whatever its Public Safety Committee (PSC) comes up with before finally getting those ideas before the full council for adoption.
Calls for citizen review have taken off in recent weeks with the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the ensuing protests there and in major cities around the country. Further fanning those flames of discontent has been the officer-involved shooting death of Rayshard Brooks at a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta on Friday, June 12.
The PSC is headed by Councilman John Kennedy, a former civilian deputy police chief in Richmond, Virginia, under the leadership of former police Chief Jerry Oliver, who took over as chief in that city in 1995. A few years prior to that in Pasadena, Oliver opposed plans for civilian oversight being developed by members of the city’s Human Relations Commission. Instead, he proposed a civilian police academy in which community members could learn what it’s like to be a police officer.
In recent times, both Mayor Terry Tornek and Councilman Victor Gordo, who will be facing each other in a race for the mayor’s seat in November, have both said publicly that they oppose scrutiny of police by people who are not elected officials. Over the past several years, Kennedy has become a strong advocate for citizen oversight of police.
At the last meeting of the PSC on June 10, the committee reviewed oversight models first examined in 2016, the last time the proposal came to the committee’s attention.
Last week, the committee voted unanimously to take a look at a police oversight model and return in 60 days on that particular item for council consideration, “but made no decision on what that would look like,” said Kennedy.
“We will be engaging the community with regard to the leaps and bounds of oversight,” said Tornek at Monday’s City Council meeting.
“The city last reviewed various models for police oversight in 2016. The committee did not make a commitment to a particular model for oversight, nor did it make a recommendation for a model… But, because of the tremendous interest and demand being made on this issue of police oversight, the committee felt strongly that we should have a short time frame to at least come back with a recommendation for the council to take action or not take action, or to engage in discussion. I think we need to engage in positive motion on this issue with a short time frame,” said Tornek.
“I think we need at least 60 days to make sure we hear from the diversity of our community, horizontally and vertically,” said Kennedy.
Some of a number of people who made remarks to the council online said they are pleased that the council is taking action on this issue.
“It is imperative that we listen and hear the recommendations being made and that we take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and well-being of our Black community. As someone who works hand in hand with local youth, families, and the various nonprofits, I clearly hear the need and demand for the formation of a Citizens Oversight Committee,” wrote Christy Zamani. “I find this to be a small step in the right direction, and a best practice for any conscious, inclusive community that believes in equity and justice.”
“I applaud the Public Safety Committee’s decision to revisit civilian oversight of the Pasadena Police Department and its intention to engage experts to assist members in making their recommendations to the full council,” wrote Sonja Bemdt. “The time for a civilian oversight commission and appointment of an inspector general over the Police Department is now.”