Mayor Lee Brand’s Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board is a reality. The City Council on Thursday voted 5-2 to give its stamp of approval to the group of nine mayor-appointed volunteers who will help analyze and improve police behavior in Fresno.
Police Chief Jerry Dyer supports the Board. So does the Fresno Police Officers Association.
A lot has been written and said about the board. Much more is sure to come.
In part, that’s because the expectations for the Board are so high.
“We want to build trust, accountability, transparency, safety for our citizens and our officers,” Brand told the council. “And the creation of this advisory board is a major step forward in building a bridge of trust between our Police Department and community members. It will be part of a larger effort to implement community-based policing citywide in the coming years. Fresno will be at the leading edge of developing one of the most innovative police-and-community-civic-engagement models in the country.”
And in part that’s because police departments across America face intense criticism from certain quarters.
“There are a lot of individuals in a community that are very loud and that do not represent the interests of a community,” Dyer told the council. “But those are the ones that we generally hear from. This advisory board is going to be extremely important to the OIR (Office of Independent Review) in making sure that we get an accurate assessment of the community.”
But before we shove Thursday’s council hearing into the dustbin of history, let’s review the remarks made by a long-time Fresno resident during the public comment period.
Roz Clark is president of the Fresno Police and Neighborhood Watch Association. She has lived in the same house in Central Fresno for 51 years. It’s a safe bet that no civilian knows the Fresno Police Department and Fresno’s neighborhoods as well as Clark.
Clark delivered an important message on Thursday. It was addressed to the City Council and the Mayor. But all of Fresno should hear it.
Clark’s message was this: To know where we want to go, we have to know where we’ve been.
Here’s what Roz told the council:
“No one has really told me what community-based policing is. What do people believe that community-based policing is?
“I am not opposed to what the Mayor is doing.
“I do want to let you know that the groundwork has already been started. It was started 20 years ago when we started the Citizens Police Academy – where we invited citizens to come in and find out how your police (department) works and what happens when you meet a police officer.
“It was started 15 or 16 years ago when we started ‘Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life.’ You know about that, Oliver (Baines, District 3 council member and former Fresno police officer). You were on the ground floor with that – a police/community-based organization that works in the community along with the police, trying to make a difference.
“It was started when the Chief started the (Chief’s) Advisory Board, where he brought in a diverse group of people from across the city of Fresno – to listen, to let him know what was happening. And I can tell you we’ve had some heated arguments. (Clark at this point briefly looked behind her, at Dyer.) We’ve had some heated arguments.
“So, back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s – I’ve been around a long time in this organization – I can tell you that the biggest police-community organization that we have in Fresno is Neighborhood Watch. Most of our neighborhoods (Neighborhood Watch groups) are established. We’re establishing them every day. And they work very closely with the Police Department.
“So, it (the groundwork, the foundation) is out there. And much of the trust is out there. I don’t know where we run into anti-trust. I’m sorry – I don’t know it. And I’m all over the city of Fresno. I meet a lot of people on a regular basis. Last night was a very large Neighborhood Watch group (meeting). I received a phone call this morning from the neighbors that were appreciative of the three police offices that came all dressed up to meet with their neighbors.
“So, it (community trust in the police) is there. And with all due respect to the Mayor (Clark at this point briefly looked behind her, at Brand), you have a groundwork that’s already been established. And it’s working.
“Back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, we used to have community meetings. We had them all over the city, where the police and neighbors came and met each other, and talked about some of these things. So, you’re just continuing what’s been going on. And I can tell you that – good luck. I support what you’re doing. But it’s all there.
“All you have to do is look for it.”
Photo: The Washington Post