SAN LEANDRO | Nov. 29, 2011 | The San Leandro Police Department inherited this year by Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli has found itself in anything but fluid change. Sparked by reports of racial discrimination and sexual harassment from the past along with lurid tales of a former cop nicknamed “Big Dirty” last May, many in the community have raised questions about the department’s ability to police itself.
Monday night, Spagnoli appeared to quell such talk telling the City Council one of her priorities includes forming a quasi-oversight group, she called a “Chiefs Advisory Board.” Spagnoli said afterwards she contemplating using a similar committee of local businesses and civic leaders during her recent tenure in Benicia. They would meet regularly with the police to voice their concerns and wants, she said.
Earlier in the three hours work session dealing solely with the city’s public safety, Spagnoli also said she would welcome community members to participate in hiring and promotional panels for officers. “It’s important for them to be involved in the making those important decisions of who is going to lead the department,” she said.
The department’s willingness to accept outside interaction, though, may only go so far.
Spagnoli disagreed with an assertion her version of an advisory board was an end around more stringent calls for a more independent review board. “I think there’s a lot of discussion about a citizens’ review board,” she said. “I think you have to do your research on the purpose. What would you get out of it that you’re not getting now? Quite frankly, we provide public information. It’s the same information a police review board would get.”
Sam Leandro’s relatively small size also does not warrant such oversight, she added. “In a city like this, your police chief serves as the police oversight. That’s why you hire someone from the outside that’s not connected to the police department.”
Spagnoli labeled herself independent, accountable and given the authority to reform the department and said, “You can’t give that authority away, right?”
Law enforcement agencies typically reject the use of outside review boards. In most cases, the approval of these types of committees only succeeds in the aftermath of extreme police misconduct such as the infamous East Bay Riders case nearly a decade ago in Oakland.
Anthony Batts, Oakland’s former police chief who resigned from his post three months ago, said the added federal oversight from the case along with his department’s inability to adequately respond to reforms was a main reason for his abrupt departure.
“Look at the bureaucracy in Oakland and how long it takes to get things done,” said Spagnoli. “The more layers you enter into policing, the more challenging it becomes and you just bog down the system.”