Activists want stronger citizen review of Anaheim police board

Five years after Anaheim residents took to the streets to protest police-involved shootings that left two Latino men dead, a group of activists and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California are pushing the City Council for a more robust citizen oversight commission with subpoena and investigatory powers.

The city’s Public Safety Board was launched in 2014 in response to public outrage and major protests after the deaths of Joel Acevedo and Manuel Diaz during the same week in July 2012.

“The Public Safety Board, the first year, they never asked any questions,” said Donna Acevedo-Nelson, the mother of Joel Acevedo, at a forum about the board on April 8 hosted by the Anaheim Community Coalition.

“A year and a half later, they finally did, and even they learned that they aren’t allowed to review anything,” said Acevedo-Nelson, who since her son’s death has become an active voice at City Council meetings.

She also co-chairs the Community Coalition with Theresa Smith, whose son was also killed by Anaheim police.

Now the City Council must decide whether to keep the 2-year-old Public Safety Board as-is, expand the board and its powers or do away with it altogether. The board only was set up to exist for two years. It held its last meeting in February, and if the city doesn’t renew it, it will go out of business. The council hasn’t set a date to discuss it.

Unlike city commissions, which report to the council, the Public Safety Board has no policy-making authority and makes recommendations to the city manager. The board can’t conduct or order investigations into incidents and does not have subpoena power.

Although billed as one of several major changes to improve public confidence and citizen input into the Anaheim Police Department, police accountability activists say much of the public is unaware of the board’s existence and often deride it as a do-nothing body lacking any real authority.

Calls for more authority

At the forum, activists painted a picture of a city that has not moved on from the protests of the summer of 2012.

Jennifer Rojas, a policy advocate for the ACLU, cited statistics she said were based on FBI data claiming Anaheim is the ninth-deadliest police force per capita among the 60 largest U.S. cities.

“From 2002 to 2016, APD (Anaheim Police Department) were involved in 37 deaths, of which three were homicides during arrest,” Rojas stated in a letter to the City Council. “Between the first Public Safety Board meetings in October 2014 to the most recent in February 2017, seven people were killed by APD.”

The ACLU report has yet to be published and released to the public. The ACLU also has recommended the Public Safety board report directly to the City Council; not include representation from the police union or police department; have broad scope to review complaints and incidents; have the ability to issue subpoenas; and be able…

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