Petaluma’s Lynn King is happy with the work done by a county-wide task force to which she was appointed after Santa Rosa eighth-grader Andy Lopez was shot and killed by a deputy sheriff, but realizes there is much work to be done before any change endorsed by the panel goes into practice among Empire law enforcement agencies.
“The sub-committees did an enormous amount of work to come up with recommendations that fit within the framework of the law,” King said after Monday’s task force meeting, where the panel revealed to the county the ways in which law enforcement can be monitored without having its ability to do its job hindered. “We’re only dealing with the county board of supervisors and looking at the Sheriff’s Department. Now, the county administrators will take the things we’ve come up with out to the cities to see if they want to take part.
“It’s a county structure that we’re looking at. Cities get to decide if their own police departments adopt the practices.”
Petaluma’s Todd Mendoza is also on the task force. He wasn’t available for comment on Monday’s meeting.
The task force hopes that an Office of Independent Auditor, staffed by attorneys, will be formed in Sonoma County to review all complaints against county law enforcement. The civilian group would monitor the Sheriff’s Department, the Sonoma County jail and probation department.
Subpoena power is considered key for the proposed auditor to investigate law enforcement incidents, according to the panel. That power could be achieved by linking the auditor with the Civil Grand Jury.
The panel suggested no member of the oversight group be current or past sworn members of law enforcement.
The plan would result in the auditor providing law enforcement privacy and protection that is required by state laws that the panel took time to explain to residents in attendance at the meeting.
King knows that law enforcement agencies in individual cities could have different reactions across the board. “People express some confusion because every jurisdiction is represented by a different group. Our hope is that more jurisdictions will get involved and make our efforts more effective.”
King acknowledges that lack of trust can hinder the implementation of the panel’s suggestions.
“I hope everyone sees the need for transparency and scrutiny,” she said. “If there’s transparency, there’s less reason for suspicion. Nobody wants to have someone watching over them while they do their job.”
The Petaluma City Council is scheduled to hear the county detail the task force’s recommendations on March 16. King hopes that Petaluma residents will offer their input to the panel. The last day for public comment is March 31. To view and comment on the draft recommendations online visit: http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Community-and-Local-Law-Enforce ment-Task-Force.