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UCD seeks transparency with police oversight board

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From page A1 | October 18, 2013 |

UC Davis unveiled this week its vision of an independent civilian oversight board for the campus police department, its creation just one dozens of recommendations to emerge from the pepper-spraying controversy of Nov. 18, 2011.

The board’s mission: to strengthen the relationship between the campus community and police by establishing an open, transparent process “that people would engage in, to bring forth complaints of misconduct or inappropriate behavior,” said Rahim Reed, associate executive vice chancellor of the Office of Campus Community Relations.

Reed and UCD Police Chief Matt Carmichael led three forums this week on the Davis campus — plus two more Friday at the UCD Medical Center in Sacramento — to gather input about the new board’s creation, from its makeup to the recruitment, selection and evaluation processes.

“At the end of the day it has to be a board that has the respect and the trust of the campus community, or else it won’t work,” Reed said at a forum Wednesday afternoon.

Barbara Attard, a police accountability expert tapped by Carmichael last year to advise the department on oversight issues, issued a report recommending the creation of an Office of Police Accountability on campus, with a seven- to nine-member oversight board or commission comprising faculty, staff and student representatives.

UCD opted to tweak that model, foregoing the creation of a separate office in favor of a “hybrid format” that splits responsibilities between two existing offices: the compliance office, whose trained investigations unit already probes matters such as whistleblower, sexual harassment and discrimination complaints; and the Office of Campus Community Relations, which would provide administrative support.

“In that way the heavy lifting is done by two departments,” reducing overhead costs and ensuring that the new board “is fully integrated into our administrative and academic processes,” Reed said.

Reed also noted that while the board’s offices would be housed in the Office of the Chancellor, its members would not report to either the chancellor or to police.

Carmichael, the police chief, said both the current and proposed complaint process involves a newly installed software system for handling complaint-related data, one that has become the standard for police agencies across the country.

Currently, once the complaint information is entered into the software system, the matter is investigated by the Police Department’s professional standards unit, which then issues a finding that is passed on to the police chief for action if necessary.

Under the new system, the compliance office would serve as the primary recipient of complaints, though the Police Department also would forward any it receives. Following the ensuing investigation, the compliance office would call a private meeting of the oversight board and present its findings to the panel as well as the police chief.

The board then would issue recommendations to the chief, who either accepts or rejects the suggestions and notifies the complainant of the decision. Any discipline, if required, still would be handed down by the chief.

“Where is the teeth? Well, there’s a lot of teeth here,” Carmichael said, noting that all of the complaints received by the department would be outlined in an annual report, along with the board’s findings and whether the chief followed them.

The report also would note any trends in the nature of the complaints, and the board would have the authority to hold forums and recommend policy changes in response to those patterns.

“It’s in that sense that the board gets to be proactive,” Reed said.

According to Carmichael, trends also are detected by the Police Department’s software system, which issues an automated early warning system if it notes a pattern among the complaints.

“If I’m surprised by an annual report as a police chief, then I’m not paying attention,” he said. “This is going to be another layer of protection … in ensuring we’re staying on the right path.”

Already, the UCD Police Department has eased up the complaint process by accepting anonymous complaints and no longer requiring complainants to sign their forms under penalty of perjury. The term “citizen complaint,” potentially off-putting to noncitizens, was changed to “civilian complaint.”

Reed also is seeking suggestions of methods for evaluating the new board, such as surveys of complainants upon the completion of their cases, or possibly an email address through which anyone can provide feedback on the revised complaint process.

Input regarding the civilian oversight board’s creation will be accepted through Wednesday. Those who were unable to attend this week’s forums may offer comments via email to Linda Mijangos, Reed’s executive assistant, at lmijangos@ucdavis.edu.

Reed said his office hopes to have the oversight board selected and trained by the end of the winter quarter in March.

— Reach Lauren Keene at lkeene@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

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