Articles

On Common Ground – Episode 3: Community and Law Enforcement Engagement

September 14, 2019


(Opening Music) Welcome to the U.S. Department of
Justice Community Relations Service podcast
series, “On Common Ground.” This series of podcasts is intended to
profile successful problem-solving approaches to common
challenges confronting cities and towns throughout the country and to
further cultural professionalism. Hi, I’m Linda Ortiz. I’m a
Conciliation Specialist at the Department of Justice Community
Relations Service. Today, we’ll be exploring best practices and
models for community and law enforcement
engagement. I’m joined by Jennifer Murray, who’s the Deputy County Administrator
for Sonoma County. Jennifer, welcome to the program. Hi, Linda. Thanks for this opportunity. Jennifer, why don’t you describe a bit the
circumstances that led to the creation of the Community and Law Enforcement Task Force that exists now in Sonoma County. Linda, I’ll be glad to. Last October, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a
13-year-old boy who was carrying an airsoft rifle designed as a replica assault rifle. This absolutely shocked our community–
that something like this could happen here. Jennifer, what was the environment like
in Sonoma County post the shooting? Well, people had a
range of emotions. They were shocked. They were outraged. They were saddened. They were angry. They just could not
understand or believe that this could ever have happened here. Individuals began organizing protests. They called for the firing and criminal prosecution of the deputy involved in the incident. The
community also began turning a vacant lot in the neighborhood
where the boys lived and where the shooting took place, into a
memorial shrine. The community’s grief was palpable. You could just feel it. So, what did county
officials do after the incident to address these community concerns? Before I answer that, let me give you a
little bit of information about how counties are structured in California. In
California, counties are governed by boards of supervisors. On November the 5th, at the first meeting of the Board
of Supervisors following the incident, the board opened its meeting with a community
healing session. They invited members of the community
to speak with them and share their views on the tragedy.
They also hoped this would identify ways for the community to heal. In organizing
the session, the county reached out to community partners,
including representatives from the faith-based
community, to participate and to help frame and put in a way that
would be healing and support moving forward in positive ways. That morning, for over
three hours, members of the community shared their
thoughts on the tragedy and its impact on the community. And from
that session, the Board directed county staff to
synthesize the comments shared that morning and to propose actions in three areas–actions that the Board of Supervisors themselves might take. Actions
staff was directed to complete. And actions the Board wished a Community Task Force to carry out. Thus, the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task
Force was born. Jennifer, it sounds like there was a lot to
work on the part of the community to make sure that these issues and
concerns were addressed. Are there any type of subcommittees
created by the Task Force? First, let me tell you a little bit about
how the Task Force was created. The task force was created by action of the Board of Supervisors, by way of a charter document. The document identifies four specific charges the Task Force is tasked with in making recommendations back to the
Board of Supervisors. The Task Force is comprised of 21 community members, and they are asked to make recommendations to the Board on the potential Citizen Review or
Citizen Oversight Board for local law enforcement. They are tasked to review and make
recommendations about community policing. They’ve been asked to review whether the
county should separate the duties of the Office of Coroner from the
Office of Sheriff. And the Task Force is tasked with bringing to the attention of the
Board of Supervisors any additional feedback on issues that merit County attention.
The Task Force has been asked to complete its work by the end a the calendar year 2014 and return with recommendations to the
Board of Supervisors. Now, I can tell you a little bit about
how the Task Force operates. The Task Force began meeting in January. It has created a regular meeting
structure. It identified a Chairperson and
a Vice-Chairperson. And it approved rules of procedure to
guide how it will conduct its activities. The Task Force has organized three subcommittees to
carry out its work: The Community Healing and Engagement
Subcommittee is developing strategies and activities
that foster a greater deal of meaningful community engagement and healing. The Community Policing Subcommittee is reviewing
community policing models, learning about best practices, and gathering input from local law
enforcement agencies about their approaches to community
policing. The Law Enforcement Accountability
Subcommittee has been learning about various models of citizen review or oversight of law
enforcement agencies in anticipation of proposing an
oversight model for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which could be available to other local law
enforcement agencies. This subcommittee is also reviewing
Coroner Office Programs to learn about various options that will
inform their recommendation on whether the Coroner function should be separated
from the Sheriff function. I’d like to hear some of your challenges. What challenges did the Task Force first encounter, in terms of getting off the ground? Well, there are many challenges. The first
would be writing a Task Force charter that’s clear
about what the body is asked to do, what its scope involves, its time-line, and who needs to be consulted as the
Task Force develops its recommendation. Another
challenge is in identifying what kind of staff
support will be needed. In Sonoma County, we have a staff support provided by multiple
county departments. And pulling your staff team together,
understanding their availability, whether you may need to bring in
supplemental resources, is all important in determining how
you’re going to support your Task Force or your Body. Another challenge is in providing a framework. In our case,
we call it the “Rule of the Procedure,” to give the Task Force structure. Within
those rules, things that you would want to consider
would be: What constitutes a majority, or a quorum of members for action to be
taken? Who has the authority or the ability to put an item on the agenda for
consideration? Another consideration is, who speaks for
the Task Force? Is it only staff? Is it the chairperson? Is it any member
of the Task Force? So, there are many things to develop
clearly before you get in the actual moments of engagement
of the Task Force. Other challenges include assisting
your Task Force in understanding what it needs to know in order to develop its recommendations.
Are there particular laws or programs that need to provide
important background information? For example, we have spent some time
learning about how law enforcement agencies approach
investigation and response in critical incidents. We’ve
learned about something in California called, “The Peace
Officer Bill of Rights.” We’ve also spent some time learning about how law
enforcement policies are developed, particularly policies around use the force and around training of officers. Other challenges include communication. How to be clear about your
communication with each other–meaning members of
your Task Force– with your governing body. Do you want to
put a structure that sets up periodic updates? Or provides written documents? Do you want to use a
website? Do you want to use social media to get the word out about various
activities or meetings? Another challenge for us, and though our
Task Force is charged with making programmatic recommendations, and not specifically asked to address
any issues around the shooting incident that occurred last October, many members of the community are
actively engaging the Task Force and its subcommittees to share their views, still as community
members, about the current incident as it
continues to develop. For example, when the District Attorney’s
investigation was concluded, the members of the community wanted to voice their views on the two members of the
Task Force, though the Task Force has no role in commenting on or informing the District Attorney’s outcome. Similarly, Task Force members are receiving
feedback now from the community as they voice perspectives on the Deputy involved in the incident and his return to the field to regular duties. I understand this is
going to be an ongoing process. Can you tell me a bit about what’s
the current situation with the Task Force? What’s their status at this time? Each of the subcommittees is currently developing its recommendations. They are receiving input from members of
the community and various stakeholder groups. And they anticipate returning with their
recommendations to the Board of Supervisors actually by the 31st of March. So, the Board has recognized the
complexity of this work and they’ve given them an additional 90
days to complete their recommendations. What’s the timeline on that? The recommendations are due to the Board of Supervisors by the end of March in 2015. What recommendations do you have for
anyone trying to create something similar to this in their community? I think there are three things to
consider in trying to create something in your community: process, relationship, and outcomes. By “process,” I mean what will the process be? Who needs to be engaged? How will the work move forward? And does it involve asking individuals
to take on a new role that they may not currently have, such as
in appointing a Citizen’s Advisory Body. Relationships are very important. How
will the members of the Body engage with one another? What
expectations can they have of one another? What expectations can they have of staff that’s supporting them? And how will they work with others in
the community if they have already been engaged in some kind of a similar effort before a Task Force was created? And then, “outcomes.” What is it specifically that a Task Force is being asked to do? Who are they making
their recommendations to? As well as, who needs to be involved
in those recommendations? And then finally, they need to
recognize the importance of communication all throughout the process
and at all levels. Jennifer, I’d like to thank you for being
with us today and providing your insight and best practices on all the hard work
that you and the community have been doing in Sonoma County. You’re welcome. And we’re also happy to
be able to share any of our experiences that have been borne out of difficult and challenging times
in our communities with other communities that may face similar challenges. Anyone interested in information about
the Sonoma County Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force is
welcomed to review information about it on our
website. The address is: http://sonoma-county.org/communitylocallawtaskforce/ And visit their Facebook page, “Sonoma County Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force.” This has been a U.S. Department of Justice
Community Relations Service podcast. CRS provides confidential, no-cost
dispute resolution services that support local efforts to address
conflicts stemming from issues of race, color and national origin and to prevent hate crimes committed on the basis of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation,
religion, and disability. To reach the Community
Relations Service, please call: (202) 305-2935. (Closing Music)

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