Add comment on:BART Police Oversight Subcommittee Stacked Against Real Civilian Oversight, 6/1/09: audio
BART still just doesn't seem to be getting it, despite clear pleas from the public for five months now since the murder of Oscar Grant. The public has demanded accountability and to date BART has not taken any action against a single police officer present on the Fruitvale BART platform that night, including Tony Pirone who physically assaulted Oscar Grant and his friends nor Marysol Domenici who threatened many of them with a taser (as well as the two of them lying all over the witness stand recently). All seven of those officers remain on the BART payroll, currently enjoying very long paid vacations. The actual shooter, Mehserle, was never questioned or held to account by BART -- he resigned of his own accord. Nor has BART held Police Chief Gary Gee or General Manager Dorothy Dugger to account for their roles in minimalizing and covering up the murder, choosing instead to make excuses and rationalize their officers' atrocious behavior. In early January, BART created the BART Police Department (BPD) Review Committee, made up of several Board Directors, that has basically done nothing but hire Meyers Nave to conduct an internal investigation of the events of January 1st and to hire NOBLE to conduct a "top to bottom" review of the BPD. In all likelihood, few of the findings from either of those investigations will be made public. The BPD did hold one semi-public meeting and has since created a subcommittee tasked with creating some form of police oversight outside of BPD internal affairs. Regarding police oversight, BART has now held two truly public meetings, one on May 2nd to present to the public various models of police oversight and one on May 15th where they presented a draft of an Independent Auditor model that the subcommittee had created despite that fact that it is the weakest model of police oversight and a clear majority of public comment on May 2nd requested something more akin to the San Francisco and Los Angeles models whereby civilian boards are empowered to recommend discipline against offending officers. Continuing their pattern of ignoring the public, the police oversight subcommittee followed up with a semi-public meeting on June 1st ("semi" because they schedule it during business hours when most people work) and again tried to push forward the Independent Auditor draft despite the fact that not a single member of the public supported it during public comment on May 15th. This is frustrating but not surprising as the subcommittee is stacked towards police interests. The subcommittee consists of nine members including BART General Manager Dorother Dugger, who directly oversees BART Police Chief Gary Gee, two current BART police union representatives, a former Richmond police officer, and a former Berkeley police officer. The other four members are the two BART Board Directors and two community representatives. Just by this count, Dorothy Dugger, who has stood by BART statements from Gee and others that BART police acted professionally on January 1st, and the four current and former police officers, police represent a majority of the oversight subcommittee. In all fairness, former Berkeley police officer Reginald Lyles spoke in favor of true civilian oversight with a civilian board having access to full information on all complaints (i.e. the identity of BPD officers involved), as well as the power to recommend discipline, and community representative Daniel Buford at first seemed amenable to police demands of a more or less powerless civilian board with most of the oversight power going to the "Independent" Auditor. Overall, though, the subcommittee discussions often appear stacked more toward police concerns about being accountability to civilians than toward empowering true civilian oversight. Police already have the California Police Bill of Rights and their unions. The whole point of civilian oversight is to create an avenue for community involvement, not to placate the BPD in yet another way. While the subcommittee is stacked toward police interests, fortunately Board Directors Lynette Sweet and Tom Radulovich on the subcommittee seem to be growing more vocal in support of real civilian oversight, realizing that they have the final say on BPD policy and not Dorothy Dugger, Chief Gee, or the police unions. BPD union representatives stated in March that they supported civilian police oversight, but apparently they just meant hollow, powerless civilian oversight in "advisory" form only because Jesse Sekhon declared at the June 1st meeting that his union would not support a civilian board that had access to all relevant information nor one with the power to recommend discipline, and he didn't want the BART board to be involved at all. Lynette Sweet directly pushed back against that statement, declaring that the BART board of directors has to be involved in the process. Also at issue was whether the auditor would be largely independent of a citizens' advisory board and make recommendations on his/her own or if the auditor, the primary investigator of police abuses, would instead report findings to the civilian board and the board would make recommendations. Finally, who would be the final arbiter of disciplinary issues was disputed by subcommitte members -- would the buck stop with Gee and Dugger, as it largely does now, or could recommendations be appealed all the way up to the BART board? The BPD Review Committee police oversight subcommittee will likely present three options for police oversight and vote on which proposal to move forward with at their next meeting. One will be their original weak plan presented on May 15th, whereby oversight is primarily conducted by an Independent Auditor who has no power to recommend discipline and a Citizen's Advisory Committee that has no power whatsoever. Another is likely to be a true civilian oversight plan, whereby a citizen board can recommend discipline and where the BART Board of Directors can hear appeals of citizen complaints. The third will probably be some phony "compromise" version that kowtows to the BPD police unions while citizen involvement is muted. The best chance the community has of assuring that there are no more murders of Jerrold Halls, Bruce Edward Sewards, or Oscar Grants is to push the subcommittee and BART Board Directors to choose a model that allows for true civilian oversight, including access to all relevant information and the ability to recommend discipline for offending BPD officers. It is also important that appeals related to complaints can rise to the BART Board rather than ending with the police chief and the general manager, both of whom the public has no faith in now. Make your voice heard at the subcommittee meeting on Monday, June 8, 2009, at 10:00 a.m. in the BART Board Room at 344 20th St., third floor, Oakland, CA. Once the subcommittee selects a model, it will be far more difficult for the public to push for better models. Full audio of the June 1st meeting is below:
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