Editorial Sept. 22: A community with questions

Editorial Sept. 22: A community with questions


Andy Lopez died at age 13. Six seconds, seven 9 mm bullets, fired from the gun of a 24-year veteran of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department.

The community’s anguish poured out in rallies and protests. A week after Lopez’s death, more than  1,000 people marched through Santa Rosa, beginning at Courthouse Square, stopping at Santa Rosa Junior College and concluding at the Sonoma County sheriff’s office. Similar events played out over California, from Sacramento to Los Angeles.

While these events gave the community an important release of its sound and fury and a chance to gain national consideration, the sad fact is that the modern 24-hour news cycle soon left them behind in pursuit of the next big story, taking the nation’s attention with it.

To gain any kind of lasting change and healing, the community needs to have more say in how its guardians conduct themselves.

Sonoma County’s board of supervisors initiated the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force to evaluate and recommend actions for creating a citizen’s review board of the county’s police and sheriff’s departments, independent of any internal assessment systems. The task force includes teachers, attorneys, representatives from youth outreach programs and the former and current SRJC student trustees.

The current draft of the task force’s goals for this potential review board include increasing the accountability of law enforcement at the level of offices and officers, strengthening public confidence in the law enforcement agencies, and improving the transparency of how these agencies operate.

This board shouldn’t restrict law enforcement from performing their duties, but it does need to ask questions to give the community insight as to how enforcement agencies go about their business of protecting the citizens of the community.

In a panel discussion held Sept. 18 in the Bertolini Center, Robert Edmonds, former SRJC student trustee and current task force vice-chair, put forth several questions that such a board might ask of the SRJC District Police.

Why does SRJC pay $2 million for 13 officers to patrol an area where five law enforcement districts already overlap each other? Is this money spent wisely?

As reported in the Sept. 8 issue, the SRJC District Police currently has only one sworn officer stationed at the Petaluma campus; the remainder serve on the Santa Rosa campus. An Oak Leaf analysis of the past two years of arrest records show that 72 percent of arrests occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding SRJC. What is or should be the jurisdiction of SRJC District Police?

What further assurances can the SRJC community have to deter another Jeffrey Holzworth scenario, in which a 28-year veteran officer stole more than $285,000 from campus parking meters?

The department has already taken many steps towards addressing this specifically around the handing of the parking meter revenue: two people collect the physical monies from the machines instead of just one, and multiple people go over the electronic receipts. Still, such an egregious breach of the community’s trust will continue to need attention by SRJC District Police Department in all its operations.

Edmonds also referenced researching SRJC’s Clery Reports in his address. These reports are federally mandated by the Clery Act, which states that educational institutions with a police department must provide these reports as a public crime log detailing the “nature, date, time and general location of each crime” within two days of the incident.

The district has not updated its website with current Clery Reports since July 2, 2014, “due to county Wide [sic] Software upgrades.” The regular crime logs have a similar notice and have not been updated since July 1.

Does it take a full month and a half to perform a software upgrade? Copies of the logs can be acquired by calling 707-527-4922 during business hours and by requesting an emailed version, but the growing gap between the last online entry and the current date is troubling.

The Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force intends to create a more permanent forum for the public to find the answers to these and any other questions. The task force welcomes the community to its meetings, the next of which will occur at 5:15 p.m. Sept. 29 in Room 102A of the County Center Board Chambers on 575 Administration Drive.