City officials this week veered toward hiring a police auditor who would report internal issues to the Police Commission — sidestepping a recommendation from two high-priced consultants in favor of a proposal that would keep more of the existing players in place.
Seven police commissioners joined the City Council on Tuesday in asking officials to return with several options, including two that received the majority of the discussion: one that would create an Office of Independent Investigation and Review, and one that would create the auditor, much like an inspector general.
Going for the auditor would mean the Police Commission, which has been pushing for more oversight power, would remain in its largely advisory role. The inspector would report directly to the city manager, whose decision to hire or fire would have to be approved by the City Council.
“An inspector general would have the highest and widest breadth and function, and would serve at the pleasure of the council,” Councilman David Gordon said.
Although he acknowledged some reporting may need to be done in closed session for confidential personnel and legal matters, an independent inspector would allay his concerns about hearing information secondhand.
“What I don’t want to see happening is a filtration or tainting of the information,” Gordon said. “I don’t want it to be modified or rephrased before it is presented to us.”
In a report by former U.S. Atty. Debra Wong Yang and police expert Merrick Bobb — both brought on for tens of thousands of dollars to help guide police reforms within the department following probes into officer misconduct — it was recommended that the city establish an Office of Independent Investigation and Review.
The recommendation was made public only after the City Council voted in closed session to make public a single page from the pair’s contentious strategic plan document, known as the “Merrick Bobb Report,” which reportedly contains an in-depth analysis of past practices of the Burbank Police Department.
All but the one page released publicly on Tuesday contains confidential information, according to the city attorney’s Office.
This Office of Independent Investigation and Review would report directly to the city manager and provide reports to various city departments and the general public, according to the recommendation. That would effectively neuter any need for a Police Commission, since the independent review office could theoretically handle the public inquiries and complaints currently lobbed at the commission, which is appointed by the City Council.
But during a meeting in August, many of the public speakers pushed for more oversight powers of the Police Commission — something that wouldn’t be addressed in either of the options. And City Council members on Tuesday said they preferred to keep the commission active so residents, who are in touch with the community, can bring their input to the process.
“We are all working on the same goal now,” said Police Commissioner Robert Frutos, but adding that “responsibility and power will grow as we move forward.”
In the eight years Frutos has served on the commission, his colleagues have addressed the City Council only to ask for a liaison to its meetings, per the city’s Charter.
“I thought it was great how 12 people had the same ideas about where the body is headed,” said Mayor Anja Reinke, a former commissioner, after the joint meeting on Tuesday.
Although the Police Commission was not directly given more power, she said it was important that the body will now have an active advisory role, especially with the addition of an auditor.
“Now someone is going to be saying [to the Police Commission], ‘Here’s what I think you should look at, and we should talk about this,’” Reinke said.