Santa Barbara Councilmembers Meagan Harmon and Alejandra Gutierrez will take the lead on a first step toward creating a civilian police review board, the council decided Tuesday. The two will facilitate the creation of a community commission who will guide the process of examining what type of review board the city ought to adopt. The options include an investigation-focused model with paid staff and subpoena power; a review-focused system that examines internal police investigations for quality control; an auditor-monitor that studies patterns of complaints and recommends structural changes; and a hybrid model that takes different elements from each.
Harmon and Gutierrez stressed that a main focus of their efforts will be to solicit public feedback from a broad swath of Santa Barbara residents, including its Black and Latinx communities. Translating the materials and discussion into Spanish must be a priority, Gutierrez said. The commission itself will be appropriately diverse, they also emphasized, with representatives of different backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities.
The council’s unanimous vote last month to start down the path of civilian police review was a landmark moment in the city’s history ― despite various proposals and demands over the decades, no type of external oversight system has ever existed ― and came in direct response to demands from Healing Justice: Black Lives Matter S.B. Harmon was careful to frame the process not as an attack on the police but as an opportunity to increase trust between officers and residents. “Civilian oversight is not meant to be an inherent indictment of our current police,” she said. “It’s not meant as a tool to punish. Civilian oversight is really just one step toward equitable policing. It’s about transparency, accountability, and about self-determination by those who are most marginalized in our community.”
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