UPDATE: Death Knell for Genuine Police Oversight in Anaheim: Council Boosts Office of Independent Review
Last week, Mayor Tom Tait, along with the rest of the Anaheim City Council, voted for an “amended agreement” with the Office of Independent Review which made it a de facto police “oversight body.”
By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher
At the Tuesday, June 18th meeting of the Anaheim City Council, Mayor Tom Tait, along with other members of that body, voted unanimously to approve an amended agreement with the Office of Independent Review, a Los Angeles-based law firm run by Michael Gennaco, to drastically expand the scope of services it provides the City of Anaheim. The 5-0 vote, which was done quietly and without much discussion, essentially paved the way to make it a de facto “oversight body” for the Anaheim Police Department.
But last week’s decision, however, was not a victory for genuine police oversight within this city; it signaled its death knell. If anything, it was a major boost for Kerry Condon, president of the Anaheim Police Association. Condon, who has repeatedly blasted the idea of establishing an independent police oversight committee run by residents, has never been critical of Gennaco’s law firm. And despite being present at the last council meeting, he raised no objections as Tait swiftly moved to have this item voted upon by his colleagues.
It should be no surprise to anyone Condon said nary a word about this matter given the Office of Independent Review already works hand-in-glove with the Anaheim Police Department. Financial records the Anaheim Investigator obtained from the City of Anaheim in a California Public Records Act request filed back in March show they have received $24,510 from them since 2008. Multiple invoices submitted by this law firm have scribbled notations and markings which make it clear they are funded out of the police budget, not the city’s general fund.
Additionally, the Office of Independent Review is really not an “oversight body” at all. Not only does it have no authority to conduct independent investigations into complaints against alleged police misconduct, but it has no power to compel witnesses to testify or produce documents. All it does is have its staff of highly paid attorneys “audit” or review case files prepared by the police themselves to determine if an officer’s actions were in compliance with the law; it also offers recommendations how they can improve their performance.
In a letter Gennaco sent to Michael Houston, then-Interim City Attorney, on April 24th, he listed in detail the kind of “audits” his law firm will do under the amended agreement:
1. Review all critical incident cases (officer-involved shootings, and in-custody deaths) that were closed after January 1,2010 and any critical incidents that have occurred to date.
2. Review additional officer-involved shootings outside this time frame and for which representatives of the Anaheim community have raised concerns. Prepare a report to the City Attorney, as well as a written public report, regarding the results of our review.
3. On an annual basis, or on such other time schedule as requested by the City Attorney, review all critical incident cases that have been closed in that year and prepare reports as requested by the City Attorney.
4. Perform any additional critical incident reviews or tasks requested in writing by the City Attorney.
The Anaheim Investigator is intrigued with the strategy the City of Anaheim is using to create this “oversight body.” Rather than put everything out on the table all at once, they’ve decided to do it gradually, in a piecemeal fashion. They are also being very quiet about what they say in public. It is our opinion this is being done with the intent of minimizing criticism from residents who favor genuine police oversight, not oppose it. For example, if such persons had been aware this item was on last week’s agenda, they might have rallied against it, especially had they known what it would really do.
Now that the amended agreement with the Office of Independent Review has been approved, the next step is to add a “committee component” to give it “legitimacy.” At the meeting, Marcie Edwards, Interim City Manager, stated Gennaco is expected to report back to council about this issue in a few weeks. Knowing what we know about the Police Chief’s advisory board, we suspect any committee they create will be stacked with pro-police political appointees. And they would only meet to read reports Gennaco’s attorneys prepared for them using information obtained from police files.
Curious to learn the reason why Tait voted in favor of this item, the Anaheim Investigator made multiple attempts to seek public comment from him. Not only did we leave messages on the voice-mail of his private cellphone, but we also contacted his Executive Assistant at Tait & Associates, Inc., and asked her to have him return our calls. We also sent to several messages to all of his Facebook accounts and business emails. So far, despite our sincere efforts to try to get a hold of him, Tait has failed to respond to any of our inquiries.
[UPDATE as of Wednesday, June 26th at 11:02 p.m.]
After five days of unsuccessfully trying to reach Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait via email and telephone, he finally contacted the Anaheim Investigator in a call early Wednesday morning. Although other commitments prevented Tait from talking with us at length, he re-affirmed his support for a police oversight committee run by residents. “I still want a civilian review commission,” he said. He further emphasized that at the Tuesday, June 18th city council meeting, he requested city staff report back to him about this issue at a later date.
In respect to concerns we had about his vote approving the amended agreement with the Office of Independent of Review, Tait characterized it as an “extension” of a pre-existing arrangement the City of Anaheim has had with this law firm since 2008. Without getting into a squabble over word meanings, we do agree that it could be labeled as such. But City Attorney Michael Houston made it clear in his staff report on the matter that this agreement just doesn’t “extend,” but will “expand the scope of services” this entity offers to the city.
[Below are electronic reproductions of some of the documents referred to in this article. Click on them to enlarge.]
APD Disbursements to Office of Independent Review 1/06-3/13 (1 of 2)
APD Disbursements to Office of Independent Review 1/06-3/13 (2 of 2)
Office of Independent Review, Invoice #APD-1/09-16, 5/09-6/09 (1 of 2)
Office of Independent Review, Invoice #APD-1/09-17, 5/09-6/09 (2 of 2)
Office of Independent Review, Invoice #APD-1/09-27, 1/10-3/10 (1 of 1)
Office of Independent Review, Invoice #APD-1/09-31, 9/10-10/10 (1 of 1)