Now that the campaign season is starting to heat up, the Examiner staff has decided to bring up an issue to Eureka voters that seems to have been forgotten. It’s apparent to us that when important issues are completely ignored for long enough, the voting public seems to get disenfranchised and give up on them. Well, enough is enough.
The Eureka Police Department has been involved in numerous officer involved shootings with questionable circumstances over the past several years. There have been officers arrested, and millions in judgments against officers for unlawful conduct.
Where is the outrage? EPD killed women and children, a Chief and Lieutenant were indicted for murder, lawsuits abound???? It was around in 2007, according to the Times-Standard:
“EUREKA — The Humboldt Buddhist Peace Fellowship is sending a letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and the Eureka City Council asking for a police review board.
The letter became public after the fourth police-involved shooting in the past eight months occurred Thursday, but the letter was written before the most recent shooting.
”The members of the Humboldt Area Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship are alarmed and disturbed by the three fatal shootings in the past eight months by officers of the Eureka police, and by the behavior of members of other law enforcement agencies in Humboldt County,” said the letter.
The letter states that data from Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, indicate that Humboldt County should have roughly one police-involved shooting every three to four years.
”We’ve had three in eight months,” said the letter.
”We believe it is urgent that civilian institutions with substantial powers of investigation be created and assigned the task of reviewing the behavior of law enforcement officers in Eureka and throughout Humboldt County,” it reads. “We would like to see a civilian police review board be created by the county and/or the city, and provided with subpoena powers.”
If officials at the county or city fail to take action, the group says, it will take the case to the Grand Jury.
”While we commend law enforcement officers for the protection they provide us all under sometimes difficult conditions, we still believe civilian review is imperative. We must all take responsibility for the manner in which our government enforces laws.”
Mitch Trachtenberg, a member of the group, said the calls for police review are not an attack on police.
”Law enforcement is the responsibility of everyone,” he said. “When the police are behaving appropriately, there’s no problem with civilian oversight. If someone is worried about police review, then perhaps they’re behaving inappropriately.”
Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham said he doesn’t see a need for a police review board. “We do a pretty good job of policing ourselves,” Harpham said.
He said the last three people fired from the department were fired for things discovered from internal investigations, not from a citizen’s complaint.
”We see a problem, we take care of it,” Harpham said.”
Murl Harpham was afraid of a review board. Obviously, he was worried about the EPD skeletons being made public. Chief Nielsen was hired in 2007 and started taking steps to ensure civilian review. He was fired by the council (including Mike Newman), mostly because of his perceived liberalism and progressive ideas. Now we have the conservative and religious Chief Andy Mills, who came from an agency with a civilian review board. The goal of his former agencies board seems pretty reasonable:
The purpose of the Board is to empower an independent citizens group to assure the public that complaints against San Diego police officers are investigated thoroughly, completely and fairly; and to recommend and advocate for policies which promote fair and humane policing of the city.
Mills talks a good game about being accountable to the public. Will he support the formation of a functional review board that includes real oversight and the ability to look into citizen complaints? We don’t know. However, it would be nice if the city council candidates took this issue seriously and looked into implementing real change in local law enforcement.
Newman has certainly talked a good game about hiring a forward thinking Chief, while forgetting to mention that he fired a progressive Chief Nielsen and replaced him with Murl Harpham, who was still stuck in the 50’s. Albin probably would have done the same.
Now we have a chance with Natalie Arroyo and Kim Bergel to move the city and EPD forward in a positive direction. So what will be Kim and Natalie’s stance on a Civilian Review Board in Eureka?