100 signatures reached
To: Mayor of Fresno, Ca. and Fresno's City Council
Protect and Strengthen Fresno’s Office of Independent Review
We are petitioning Fresno’s Mayor and City Council to PROTECT and STRENGTHEN the existing Office of Independent Review. Our community would like to not only keep the OIR but strengthen the powers of that office to continue to monitor the Fresno Police Department, review, and preferably independently investigate, complaints of police misconduct, and make policy and procedural recommendations in order to foster greater trust between the police department and community members. We subscribe to the “Ten Principles” for Effective Oversight of Police: Independence; Investigatory Power; Mandatory Police Cooperation; Adequate Funding; Public Hearings; Reflect Community Diversity; Policy Recommendations; Public Reporting of Statistical Analyses; Separate Offices; and Disciplinary Role.
Why is this important?
“The mission of the Office of Independent Review (OIR) is to strengthen community trust in the Fresno Police Department by providing neutral, third-party review of police policies, procedures, strategies and internal investigations. The OIR works independently of the Fresno Police Department and provides the City’s leaders and the public with objective analysis of policing data, actions and outcomes” (from the City of Fresno’s website: http://www.fresno.gov/Government/CityManager/IndependentReview/default.htm).
As concerned members of the Fresno community, we recognize the vital role police officers play in providing safety within our communities and the importance of cultivating trust with those they serve. Indeed, the motto of the Fresno PD is “Safety, Service and Trust.” Transparency and accountability are critical to the establishment of that trust, and the existence of the OIR ensures a systematic process of objective, third-party review of all complaints filed by citizens and all internal affairs investigations, including quarterly reports with recommendations on findings to increase thoroughness, compliance, quality and accuracy. Currently, the Fresno City OIR has been led by Richard Rasmussen, who was hired in September 2012, having just retired after serving 21+ years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The Second and Third Quarter Reports of 2016 issued by the Fresno OIR are based on data provided by Fresno PD and reveal that African Americans and Hispanics are subject to more “Field Interviews” and “Traffic Stops” than their respective proportions in the population would predict. For example, although African Americans constitute only 7.7% of the population of the City of Fresno, they represent 13.2% of the traffic stops and 24.4% of the field interviews by Fresno PD--a statistically significant difference. The irony is that the same Fresno PD statistics reveal that only 3.03% and 2.42% of the Field Interviews of African Americans and Hispanics, respectively, result in arrest/detention, compared to 4.11% of the Field Interviews of whites (a statistically significant difference). Consequently, the recent OIR reports provide recommendations on how Fresno PD might build greater trust with the population served.
Our most pressing issue must be to PROTECT our existing Office of Independent Review. The existence of the OIR is threatened by both 2016 mayoral candidates (Henry Perea and Lee Brand), neither of whom has expressed a long-term commitment to the OIR. Henry Perea “favors making the police auditor local, … does not support giving the position investigative and subpoena powers and also does not support any sort of community advisory board. He says there already are enough investigative layers as is” (Ellis, “Summer pushes new issues to forefront of Fresno mayor’s race,” The Fresno Bee). Lee Brand also believes the auditor should be local but that it would be too difficult to expand its investigative power. Instead, Brand would consider a Community Advisory Board (CAB), without mentioning how the CAB would be constituted and what “power” it would have.
The community would like to not only keep but STRENGTHEN the powers of the OIR to include the ability to subpoena witnesses. In Salt Lake City, for example, they have an Independent Investigator and a Civilian Review Board (not just “Advisory”). The Investigator conducts a side-by-side investigation with the Internal Affairs Unit of the Police Department (as opposed to “after” the IA investigation currently in place in Fresno). The Investigator participates in all interviews, has access to all evidence, and may compel witnesses to be interviewed. Once the Investigator has finished the investigation, it is presented to the Civilian Review Board which deliberates and sends a recommendation to the Police Chief regarding whether or not the complaint should be sustained, along with any other recommendations. The Police Chief has complete and final authority over all disciplinary decisions but is required to take the recommendations of the Police Civilian Review Board into consideration.
Fresno’s OIR has made recommendations in department policies and procedures that have been critical in reducing the number of officer involved shootings (OIS), increasing the use of de-escalation tactics, and requiring the use body cameras. It is because of the OIR that the public is able to get access to hard-to-obtain information such as racial data on police field interviews, traffic stops, and detentions (Hess, “Role of Fresno’s Police Auditor Questioned,” Valley Public Radio).
Prior to Mr. Rasmussen’s arrival, more than two dozen lawsuits alleging excessive force and police misconduct by Fresno PD were winding their way through federal court. The price of fighting these legal battles, not to mention the payouts resulting from either settlements or findings against Fresno PD, cost us taxpayers millions of dollars. According to KMPH-KFRE.COM media reports, about 180 lawsuits were filed against the Fresno Police Department between 1997 and 2009, and the city paid out about $5.7 million in settlements and judgments, $2.8 million of which were specifically for civil rights violations. Since the re-institution of the OIR under Rick Rasmussen in September 2012, there have been no payouts resulting from any complaint to date (any recent payouts were from complaints filed prior to September 2012). The presence of the OIR seems can help build public trust and also save the city money.