October 24, 2003

The Purpose of the Prop?

by Raymond R. Beltrán

As banners and signs reading “Subpoena Powers” were raised high Tuesday evening, Oct. 21, at the National City Civic Center, Mayor Nick Inzunza and city council members addressed the first eight appointments, of nine, for the long awaited National City police review board that was introduced in last year’s Proposition L initiative.

Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee and National City police brutality activist Terry Hanks addressed the council with their concerns, suggestions, and grievances with the council’s plans for the nascent police review board.

Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee implores for a humane standard of living to an ambivalent city council.

The grievance between residents and National City Council members is over the decision to appoint a National City police officer to the review board, and whether or not the rights and regulations of the board will be on the next voting ballot.

“People won’t accept a paper tiger, they want accountability,” Hanks pleaded to the council. “Allow the people to decide what kind of review board they want.”

Concerned National City residents voted in favor of the initiative under the impression that the board was going to have the power to subpoena witnesses in any given case, but the council is objecting to the idea. The objection leaves National City residents to wonder, ‘What then will be the purpose of a board without any powers?’

Councilman Ron Morrison says that the review board is still in its early process, even though the majority of National City residents voted on it favorably one year ago. He claims that since the prominent Proposition L initiative passed, “the council has had a large serving on its plate this past year,” and the review board has been in a state of hiatus.

“It’s not a mini-grand jury,” says Morrison. “It’s a police-community relations board, and deals with a lower level of confrontation.”

Councilman Morrison claims that the initiative was rushed into the voting ballot without any prior planning or structuring of what the responsibilities of the review board were going to be, one of the reasons why it was so popular he says. Today, those guidelines have yet to be determined.

National City residents have been receiving “lip service” from city council, according to Hanks and the Citizens Against Police Brutality. The proposition passed almost one year ago, only eight out of the nine members have been verified, and the only guideline that’s been initiated is the fact that the review board will not have subpoena powers, unless a large community of people act in objection to that guideline.

Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee stood in front of the mayor and city officials Tuesday night to highlight the importance of human rights advocates and the police department working together to establish “a standard of living that is humane” for National City residents. Ramirez and Hanks both brought to the boards attention the “intimidating factor” of having a police officer on the board.

“We’re not against the police, but [against] the appointment of police officers to the review board,” said Hanks.

Morrison claims that the officer will be a non-voting member at the review board’s disposal for advisory purposes only. Both residents and city council members had to come to the agreement that if there is going to be an officer on board, then he must not wear anything indicating his position in the police department.

The first eight members appointed by the mayor are Samuel Oroyo, a special education assistant at Sequoia Elementary School, Jerry Cano, a hazardous waste coordinator for the Department of Defense, Craig Prior, a lawyer dealing with immigration incidents, Judith de los Santos, an administrative assistant at University of California San Diego, William Sendt, a medical technologist for the Navy, Joseph Gonzalez, a former officer for the federal Drug Enforcement Association, Alan Bailey, a retired police officer, and Thomas Wilkins, a National City police officer.

With what seems to be actually three officers on board, the new review board has one seat yet to be filled, a seat requiring someone from a human rights organization. The idea was to make the review board as diverse as possible, according to Mayor Inzunza. Within the nine-person panel, there will be a mandatory position for a non-resident, a human rights activist, a police officer, and two spots for two non-voting advisors.

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