After six public hearings, preliminary plans for a police review board for the City of Santa Barbara are taking shape after the Community Formation Commission tentatively opted last week for a hybrid structure for the new commission, fusing together elements of the three basic models used in cities throughout the country: review, investigative, and monitoring and auditing.
According to board chair Gabe Escobedo, commissioners liked the idea of having a body to which the public could submit complaints against police officers for anything from bad attitude to physical abuse. The largest number of complaints, Escobedo noted, involve allegations of poor attitude. All are investigated, he said, but most are not found to be substantiated. In addition, Escobedo said, officers are investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs for a host of possible transgressions.
Under the new proposed hybrid approach, the as-yet-unformed review board would review findings unearthed in internal review investigations. If the board concludes key information is missing, they can recommend Internal Affairs try again. If after that they still are not satisfied, a private investigator would be hired to look into the matter on their behalf.
No decision, Escobedo stressed, has been made on whether the board would be given subpoena power.
Many of the newer police review bodies, Escobedo stated, also offer a monitoring and auditing function, doing “deep dives into the data” of such things as traffic stops, for example, to determine whether members of certain ethnic groups are stopped more than others and, if so, why. This analysis, Escobedo said, helps illuminate what various departments are doing right and what needs improvement.
The Community Formation Commission was appointed by the City Council in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement to determine what kind of police review board would best serve Santa Barbara’s specific needs and circumstances. Prior to that, the idea of a police review board in Santa Barbara seemed outside the pale of political possibility.