The most frustrating thing about the awful story of the death of Kelly Thomas and its aftermath is not knowing what goes on behind the closed doors of the Fullerton Police Department. Certainly a position of leadership comes with the obligation to take responsibility for what goes on within a department, but even if a Police Chief falls on his sword and resigns or is forced out of his job we really don’t know what is happening with the individual officers who comprise the police force. One of the most repeated statements heard from the many irate speakers at Tuesday night’s council meeting was that the police work for us, not the other way around.
Fullerton has commissions for parks and planning, and committees for transportation, infrastructure, the library, energy, community grants, investments, technology and even bicycles and the arboretum. One way or another, they oversee or at least review the activities of various city departments, namely Parks and Recreation, Engineering, the Library and Community Development. Why is there no commission to oversee the Police Department?
Other cities have them. A Fullerton Police Commission won’t prevent every mistake or outright crime committed by individual officers, but it could create appropriate policies and procedures, review individual cases, have access to all documents and recordings (like the notoriously unreleased tape of the beating of Mr. Thomas), advise the city council on matters of employment before the city council, and generally audit the effectiveness of the department.
If we are truly in charge of the Fullerton Police Department we should assert our authority and acknowledge our collective responsibility to oversee its policies and actions. It’s our department, let’s treat it that way.