H-SANTA MARIA

Nov 1, 2011 9:27 PM by Ariel Wesler

City council to consider police review board

Should the Santa Maria city council create a citizens review board to help oversee the Santa Maria Police Department? That's one of the questions city leaders will discuss tonight.

In August, Councilmember Alice Patino proposed the idea and asked for more information.

A citizens review board is generally a panel of people within the city appointed to address complaints against police officers. They are more common in larger cities across the country.

As you might imagine, the local police union is strongly against the citizens review board. Still, some on the city council say it's worth discussing.

In nearly two years, there have been 19 internal affairs investigations responding to citizens' complaints.

"The people that need to review these things are people in the system that know the technicalities of law enforcement," said Councilmember Mike Cordero.

He's a former police officer, who feels the review board would be an added layer of bureaucracy in an already complicated process.

"They're going to have to convince me that there's a significant problem in the police department that cannot be addressed with the current system," Cordero said.

But those in favor say of the review board say it would bring more transparency to the city and possibly cut down on potential lawsuits.

"We have a parks commission. We have a planning commission. We have a code compliance board. These are all regular citizens in the city of Santa Maria and that's what I want to see," said Councilmember Alice Patino.

She argues our justice system relies on a jury of regular citizens to make big decisions.

"They can determine a person's life or death, so I think that says something for a system already in place that works very well."

There is a financial piece to this as well. According to a city report, a review board could cost the city anywhere from $20,000 to $2 million, depending on how investigations are handled and the number of complaints filed.

If the council decides to move forward, city staff recommends creating a task force made up of law enforcement, citizens, and employees to do additional research. The entire process could take more than a year to complete.

The city says there has been talk about a citizens review board in the past, but the idea never took off.

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