Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

In response to political pressure created by the local Black Lives Matter movement, the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to take the first procedural baby steps of a much longer process that may result in the creation of a civilian review board for the Santa Barbara Police Department. The council authorized the creation of a 13-member panel — to have diverse representation of all major community stakeholders, including someone representing the interests of “criminal justice” — to study what kind of review panel, if any, the City of Santa Barbara should create to shine a brighter light on the state of police-community relations.

These 13, the council decreed, should have the “life experience, education, professional experience, and community standing to garner the confidence and trust of the community.” Members need not be U.S. citizens but must be willing to commit 4-20 hours a month. Members will receive a stipend of $50 for each meeting they attend, reflecting a demand by Black Lives Matters organizers that the positions offer enough pay to make participation financially viable for working people.

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It will be up to this commission to study the many different civilian review bodies that exist and determine which ones, if any, are appropriate for Santa Barbara. City staff estimates the process will take about a year. The object, according to the city staff report, is to improve “cross-cultural communications” between public safety and the “many communities of Santa Barbara.” It’s expected the commission will hold numerous public hearings and that a professional facilitator will be required.

Police review boards are commonplace in many cities throughout the country; their impact and effectiveness vary greatly. In Santa Barbara, the notion of such an entity has long seemed politically far-fetched in the extreme. But in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, councilmembers found themselves deluged with demands for the creation of a new body in which complaints against police officers can be aired and reviewed in a more open fashion.

Applications to get on the 13-member board will be accepted in English and Spanish, and the deadline for applications is September 30. All applicants must be city residents.

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