The San Diego Union-Tribune
The Carlsbad City Council voted 4-1 last week to proceed with the formation of a police commission to review law enforcement issues of concern.
The proposed Carlsbad Community-Police Engagement Commission’s goal would be to provide a forum for police-community relations and to recommend changes or improvements for the Police Department.
Residents and groups including the Carlsbad Equality Coalition, the North County chapter of the NAACP, and the North County Equity and Justice Coalition have been working with the Police Department and city officials since the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis brought new attention to police/community relations two years ago.
Councilmember Keith Blackburn, a Carlsbad police volunteer and retired officer, said he pictures a “small, manageable group” of five appointees representing no specific organizations such as activists or nonprofits.
“This is not a police oversight commission … this is a community police engagement commission,” Blackburn said.
The appointed panel would hear complaints or suggestions from the public and serve as a medium between residents, the City Council and police administrators, said Blackburn, who has been working on the proposal with groups including the Equality Coalition.
He suggested the commission members receive training in police matters so they can better understand the issues before them.
Council members voted 4-1 to support the proposal, with Mayor Matt Hall opposed.
Hall pointed out that the city already has 15 appointed commissions, and this would be the 16th, adding that commission meetings often become political and contentious.
“Once we become involved in this, it’s going to become political,” Hall said. “There is no other way.”
Councilmember Peder Norby said he had feared the police commission issue would become “a sticky wicket,” but discussions have gone smoothly and “the result was completely the opposite.”
Now might be the best time to form the commission because there’s no single controversial issue that’s driving the process, Norby said. Initially, the George Floyd murder generated widespread demonstrations and calls for reform across the nation, including some in Carlsbad. Since then, the focus has shifted to other issues.
“It’s time to do this, to stand this up,” Norby said. “I want to have as much expression as possible on issues. It’s much more effective to stand up in calm waters rather than rough waters.”
About eight speakers, including several members of the Equality Coalition, spoke in favor of forming the commission. Some said appointees to the commission should include representatives of groups such as the Equality Coalition.
“We have been working with Carlsbad over the years on police reform … and we’ve come away with a lot of wins,” said Yusef Miller, a member of the Equality Coalition, the North County NAACP and the North County Equity and Justice Coalition.
“Let’s continue this track record of working together,” Miller said.
Police Chief Mickey Williams said his department would welcome input from the commission.
“Outreach to the community is a high priority for us,” Williams said. “That’s how we get better at policing.”
Research and direction on the issue were provided by the consultants Michael Gennaco and Julie Ruhlin of the OIR Group based in Playa Del Rey.
City staffers will develop more information about the number of commissioners, how they would be appointed, their duties and more, and return with that information at a future council meeting.
Several other cities in San Diego County have some form of police commission.
Oceanside has a Police and Fire Commission with seven members and two alternates appointed by the City Council. It advises the council on police and fire safety, but does not investigate specific incidents.
Chula Vista and National City have similar commissions. The city of San Diego has a Community Review Board on Police Practices that evaluates serious complaints such as officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.