Public safety commission overdue

Anniversary of Phillips shooting underscores need for oversight

Tuesday (March 17) marks the third anniversary of Desmond Phillips’ fatal shooting by Chico police officers as he experienced a mental health crisis. As Ashiah Scharaga details in Newslines, family members and social justice activists will mark the loss outside City Hall, then call on the City Council for sweeping reforms.

Among the changes they seek is civilian oversight of the police department—something this paper first advocated for more than a decade ago. Specifically, the city should establish a public safety commission.

The public gets a glimpse into Chico PD via the Police Community Advisory Board, reinstated by then-Chief Mike Maloney in 2010 after a hiatus of several years. As Maloney made clear at the first meeting, and has been evident since, the advisory board doesn’t exist to field complaints. Rather, its select members, appointed by the chief, offer input that the department can take or leave. Even so, current Chief Mike O’Brien hasn’t convened this group since 2018.

In contrast, a city commission would meet regularly. The City Council would appoint those who sit on it, as is the case with other commissions—residents who represent their neighbors and hear concerns from fellow citizens, in public. Attendance by city staff, including department heads, is mandatory at such government meetings. Moreover, commissions are bound by the Brown Act, ensuring openness and transparency.

Since the establishment of the Police Community Advisory Board, Chico PD has drawn outrage for multiple officer-involved shootings: most notably, the fatalities of Phillips, Tyler Rushing and Breanne Sharpe. Citizens have packed City Council meetings, for lack of another venue to air grievances.

With a public safety commission, issues needn’t be limited to use-of-force or to the police. California Park residents, for example, could question Fire Chief Steve Standridge about his assessment of disaster evacuation should a new hotel go up near Sierra Sunrise Terrace. The CN&R proposes such a commission for oversight of all aspects of first response, though we know Chico PD probably will get the most scrutiny, as it does already.

What we published in 2008, we repeat today: “Appoint a commission—public safety has got to be at least as important as art, architecture and parks, right? A healthy department should have no fear of oversight. In fact, it should welcome the chance to show Chicoans the job it’s doing. Only if there’s something to hide should C[hico] PD worry—and in that case, we all should be worried.”