Muffled discussions about “restoring confidence in the police department” filled a room in the Community Services Building on Wednesday during a public forum.
The moderator, Lee Wochner, had a captive audience during introductions of police commissioners and police representatives, but voices rose in volume after the meeting veered from the agenda and moved from introductions to the State of the Police Department by Chief Scott LaChasse.
During the much-anticipated public comment period, 13 audience members stepped up to the microphone and relayed a wide range of comments, from harassment complaints, requests for increased cooperation with neighborhood watches, claims of being followed and desires for moving forward after several independent probes into alleged police misconduct.
Some of the comments, however, called for an increase of duties and oversight to be given to the Police Commission.
LaChasse personally responded to almost all 13 comments from the audience and assured the crowd that he was “solely accountable for all of his decisions.”
Changing the designation of the meeting from “public forum” to a joint meeting of the commission and City Council — an unpopular move among some commissioners and city critics — instituted a three-minute limit on public comments and forced the commission and the police command staff to respond after the public comment portion had been completed.
During the final department presentation at the end of the two-hour period, audience members were able to engage department representatives in a discussion, similar to other community meetings.
“I want to keep the community forum as a dialogue, which is the ultimate goal,” said Commissioner Robert Frutos. “It should be an exchange of information between the community and the department.”
Frutos, who serves as the commission’s chairman, said he would also like to move future forums throughout the community to accommodate those without transportation. He pushed for another meeting in four to five months.
“Like the chief would say, this showed that the commission needs to ‘drill down’ and see what they can pursue,” said Mayor Anja Reinke. “I think it’s time [the council] take a look at how the commission can evolve.”
Most questions were passed to the command staff and addressed by LaChasse.
According to the moderator, 107 people attended the meeting, including all the commissioners, police and city officials, and the president of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, Gary Olson, who said it was important for the business community to stay up on police reforms.
“I would encourage all businesses in the city to attend possible future meetings, not just members of the chamber,” he said.
LaChasse said he planned to speak to the commission about “pre-identifying” topics for future forums and bringing in subject matter experts to address concerns.
“I think it is important to reach out to underrepresented neighborhoods as well to find out what their concerns are and gather their input,” he said.