By Armando Vazquez
“You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority.”
― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
The first crucial and mandatory step toward real and progressive 21st-century police reform in Oxnard is the community taking over the vital role of departmental management and policy administration of the Oxnard Police Department (OPD). The initial step is not about defunding the cops, because it deflects and detracts from the number one problem that every police department in the nation has, including the OPD, which is cops supervising cops! For 100+ years the Oxnard City Council and by silent complicit acquiescence of the residents, we have let the “foxes” patrol with unfettered power, control, and impunity the community’s “chicken coop”. How has that worked out, for people of color, the homeless, the disenfranchised, the immigrant, and the youth, Oxnard?
True police reform is the community taking complete control and management of the police department. It is a radical idea to be sure, but it is the only way to eliminate obsolete, ineffective policing, police brutality, disproportionate and avoidable killings of people of color, and out of control police budgets that make up approximately 60% or more, of the entire Oxnard yearly budget. What is required in this country, Oxnard included, is a sober and courageous rejection of a 100+-year-old obsolete police model that was originally created to serve the white propertied elite, the rich and powerful, and keep the minorities controlled, shackled, and disenfranchised. The current OPD police model leaves 98 % of the Oxnard population without equitably legitimate due process, transparency, representation, redress, and accountability protocols in place.
The unjust and dark history and creation of the police on this continent began around 1631 when English patriots and Colonial loyalists answered the King’s call to serve as the “King’s Army” to safeguard and protect the King’s property and material riches. After the United States fought for and gained its independence, the city of Boston in 1838 and in New York in 1844 began the first urban police department, and in 1835 in South Carolina, the state created “Slave patrols”. What these newly created, mostly privately paid for by the rich property owners, police departments had in common was the fear of the Blackman’s newly acquired freedom, violence and revolt. The Blackman now “freed” had to be policed, subjugated, and controlled. In the “wild West” the white man took the matter of “Indian and Mexican” control into his own hands and largely policed these populations through a violent system of vigilantism. The vigilante was the “sheriff, judge and executioner”, an all in one racist, evil, and murderous lawless system. In 1909, the first “modern urban” police department was created by August Vollmer, a military man, in Berkeley, California. The police model that Vollmer created was, of course, a military police force. As Vollmer put it, “After all, we’re conducting war, a war against the enemies of society” As we are witnessing today with the unjustified, horrific police brutality and killing throughout our nation very little has changed in policing practices in the past 111 years, when the first “modern urban” police department was created in this country.
“During the commentary on Ferguson, someone pointed out that the purpose of the police is supposed to be to protect and serve. At least, that’s their slogan. Soldiers are trained to shoot to kill. We saw the way in which that manifested itself in Ferguson.”
― Angela Y. Davis
What is required today in every police department in the nation, Oxnard included, is the design, development, implementation of a progressive and restorative resident-driven 21st-century safety and community wellness model that is managed and supervised by an Oxnard Community Police Review Board (OCPRB). In this safety and wellness model, the cops are managed and supervised by the community. The cops play the one vital role that they have been solely charged to do and should have been doing all along, working as public law enforcement and crime prevention public servants.
The old models, scatter around the nation, of Community Police Review Board (CPRB) are generally comprised of four central features, they are:
- Investigate: The CPRB serves as the primary investigation body into allegations of police misconduct.
- Review: The CPRB reviews completed investigations and assure a complete, transparent, and fair process for all parties involved.
- Monitor and Audit: the CPRB review, audits, and conducts a broad systemic analysis of police policies and procedures.
- Staffing: The CPRB is staffed by knowledgeable, respected, and impartial volunteer members of the community.
Advocates of this traditional Community Police Review Board claim that the principal benefit of having well-respected community volunteers on the CPRB helps restore public trust and faith in their police department. Additionally these proponents argue, the CPRB makes the vital resident complaint process more accessible, transparent, and effective.
The problem, and there are many, with this traditional CPRB model is that it has absolutely no “teeth” to fire bad, racist, or rogue killer cops, or have any input, control, or involvement in other traditional personnel or employment police procedures. The old CPRB model does not have the power to modify or change police responsibilities or activities. The obsolete CPRB model does not have the power to modify or change police budgets. The powerless current CPRB models do not have CPRB members at the police personnel or finance table. So in effect, most or all of the current Community Police Review Board throughout the nation are nothing more than cheering sections or rubber stamps that are controlled by the city manager, the Police Chief, or the powerful police officers union.
This must change. Here is what I propose that an empowered Community Police Review Board, with real and consequential power looks like, in addition to the 4 traditonal roles that Community Police Review Board has played in the past.
- Personnel and Employment: The Community Police Review Board must have majority member representation on all police personnel and employment issues. In the current city of Oxnard model, the city manager Nguyen and Chief Whitney have total and absolute power, the city council acts like a “I can’t offend the cops if I am to get re-elected” rubber stamp. Think about it for one second, the hiring/firing and all personnel and employment procedures of all Oxnard police are conducted by 2 city administrators. The community is completely left out, in a total secretive blackout of information and participation. This protocol is the very definition of absolutely crazy and corrupt tyrannical power. It has been going on for more than 100 years, so the prospects of change are slim to none, but we must fight for our community democratic involvement and participation.
- Policies and Procedures: The Community Police Review Board must have majority member representation on all local law enforcement policies and procedures. I guarantee you that if a Community Police Review Board had been in place 17 years ago the city of Oxnard would not have suffered through two decades of the unconstitutional and racist Civil “Gang” Injunction fiasco, spent hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars on the Injunction over two decades, and finally have the Injunction defeated/abolished by the sheer will, determination, and power of a determined community. The Community Police Review Board would control the law enforcement mission and pragmatic community safety and wellness policies and procedures that the cops in the office and the streets would have to follow, honor, and obey in the service of the community.
- Police Budgets: The Community Police Review Board must have a majority member representation at the Police finance and budget table. Quite revolutionary, yet so simply democratic! It is the community tax dollars that fund the yearly police budget; so of course, the Community Police Review Board should have a majority representation at the yearly budget and negotiation talks. The city of Oxnard proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-21 is a whopping $74,817,092.00 dollars. Not one community member was at the negotiation table when this obscene police budget was hammer out. Which gets us to the final area of management and control by the Community Police Review Board in order to maximize efficiency.
- Community Police Responsibilities: Traditional police responsibilities throughout the nation, including Oxnard, are broken down into four major responsibilities: 1.Enforcement of the laws, 2.Crime prevention, 3.Emergency response, 4. Support services. The Community Police Review Board I envision in Oxnard would have the OPD work on only enforcement of the laws and prevention of crime. With respect to emergency responses and support services, the Community Police Review Board would begin immediate and strategic community lead planning to identify, assess, recruit, train and hire/appoint professionals, trained residents, and paid/volunteer community first responders to emergency and community situations and events that are neither criminal nor law enforcement matters. The OPD with its untrained police, on matter ranging from mental illness, familial dysfunction, suicide intervention and a myriad of other community pathologies, would no longer respond to emergency or community support services matters or occurrences. The cops would stick to law enforcement and crime prevention, nothing else. The cops would be supervised and managed closely by the Community Police Review Board to assure that they are doing the work that they hire to do and nothing more.
The Community Police Review Board I envision in Oxnard sounds like I am proposing radical stuff because the basic creation of the American police model has not changed much for the past 100 years. Police department nationwide, and Oxnard is not exception, are obsolete relics of racist, unjust and segregated history and, were created to protect rich white men and their property and to control, subjugate, and disenfranchise the nation’s minority masses yearning to be free and equal. This 111-year-old police model is obsolete, highly militarized, burdening the community with an obscene yearly budget, and has little to no credibility or trust in the minority communities across this nation. We can do better Oxnard, it is time to take full control of our community safety and wellness police department. A Oxnard Police Department that is charged with the working of public safety service and not as a “militarized” police department that acts as Vollmer stated in 1919, and Trump is channeling in 2020, “After all we’re conducting war, a war against the enemies of society”
“When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won’t do to get it, or what he doesn’t believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn’t believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire…or preserve his freedom.” –Malcom X
This nation, and Oxnard, is divided along racial lines, often times with a hostile and deadly police department between us. We have witnessed throughout this countries 200+ history and contemporarily in vivid and horrific videos and images how many of our encounters with the cops turn out. I have challenged, OPD Chief Whitney, as I have done many times in the past, with all the other police chiefs, to work with the community in the development of an equitable, progressive, vibrant and transparent Community Police Review Board, after more than 20 years, with no reply yet, I am requesting again.
Armando Vazquez, M.Ed. is Executive Director of Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.