By Tim Hunt
City Council's misguided view of police "oversight"Uploaded: Apr 26, 2022
There’s a serious misunderstanding of what role City Council members should have in dealing with the police department.
Last week, the council heard a biannual update from Police Chief David Swing on the status of the department and its relationship with the community. The reports grew out of community outreach in the wake of the George Floyd murder and violent and damaging protests elsewhere. Demonstrations in Pleasanton were peaceful and the chief joined in one.
Councilwoman Julie Testa raised concerns that the council had limited information on the February police shooting of a man armed with a knife outside an apartment in Hacienda Business Park. One week after the incident the police released a composite video of the situation as well as identified the man shot dead at the scene. Both the Pleasanton Police and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office are investigating the officer-involved shooting.
Testa said that the council has oversight responsibility and had received no more information than the public.
That’s exactly how it should be.
With the city manager style of government, the council has no authority or business being involved in the day-to-day operations of the city. Its role is to hire, guide, evaluate and fire, if necessary, the city manager. It sets policy. Day-to-day operations of the police department or any other department are the responsibility of the city manager and the department heads he hires. If the council has issue with a department, its remedy is the city manager’s office.
Both Testa and Valerie Arkin stated they were pleased with the direction of the department over the past two years there was still work to do for the council to fulfill the “oversight role” it had committed to. Assuming they had it right, then that’s a two-year-old mistake that needs to be rectified.
Mayor Karla Brown, according to the Weekly report, agreed. “Mayor Karla Brown emphasized the council's desire to serve a more substantial oversight role, and the need for an independent body for PPD to be accountable to.”
The department is ultimately responsible to the elected councilmembers through the city manager.
The council needs to stay out of day-to-day operations, whether police or public works, and deal with policy.