Santa Barbara City Council Moves Closer to Forming a Police Oversight Board

Support for Funding the Formation Commission’s Continued Work

Santa Barbara Police Department | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

After a presentation long on enthusiasm but short on detail, the Santa Barbara City Council expressed strong support for the work of the Community Formation Commission — an obliquely named ad hoc committee charged with figuring out what kind of police oversight board best fits the needs of Santa Barbara. The commission was formed this March in response to political activism energized during last year’s George Floyd protests.

Councilmembers seemed willing to support the commission’s funding requests expected to be submitted soon. That money — however much it is — will pay for a survey, translation services, and community outreach. It will also cover the consulting fees of Camme McElhiney of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), whose detailed knowledge of best law enforcement practices nationwide and different oversight models is said to be encyclopedic.

To date, the commission — by far the most diverse to be empaneled in Santa Barbara — has met monthly for five months. Its members have broken down into various subcommittees — not subject to the Brown Act, which requires public access and attendance — to research such nuts-and-bolts matters as police oversight models, data analytics, and hiring and firing practices. Starting later this week, these subcommittees will begin reporting their findings to the whole commission, and those discussions will be subject to the Brown Act’s open government rules.

“It took a lot for us to get here,” said commission chair Gabe Escobedo, alluding to how politically impossible such a commission was until the murder of George Floyd. “We need to stay engaged in the implementation process. That’s what’s going to determine if this is effective.” With City Administrator Paul Casey poised to step down in two months — and the commission dependent upon the City Administrator for funding — Tuesday’s presentation functioned as a preemptive vote of council support to whoever the council eventually appoints to replace Casey at the top job.

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