Safe, or out of luck?

Lighter matter
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The cover story and Streetalk this issue may give the impression that the CN&R has it out for the Chico Police Department. Understandable: The alleged incidents, on top of others that have surfaced in Letters recently, don’t put the force in too positive a light.

Please read carefully, though, before jumping to conclusions or ascribing motivations, two popular actions in this day and age.

Neither the CN&R collectively nor I personally distrust police. They have a vital role in society: keeping the law of the jungle from outmuscling the laws of man. (Whether those laws should prevail is another matter … stay with me, Libertarians.)

Ideally, police officers would be infallible. They’re not. They’re people hired by people, and people make mistakes. We’ll always have bad cops, just as we’ll always have bad politicians, priests, painters and publishers.

What’s crucial is their pervasiveness: a few moldy apples, or a toxic orchard?

I’ve met a fair number of CPD personnel, from the chief and two captains on down to patrol officers and clerks. There are many fine people there, honorable people, in whose hands I’d put my life, even when I write something critical.

Thing is, the department is insular. Chief Bruce Hagerty reports to City Manager Dave Burkland, who reports to the City Council. Another chain of command starts in the chief’s office and goes through the ranks: captains to lieutenants to sergeants to officers.

Nowhere in these two hierarchies is there a spot for a police commission; basic oversight comes via Burkland (who reviews complaints with the chief) or the county grand jury, neither of which has particular expertise in law enforcement.

In April, I called for a task force to, in the words of the headline, “review use of the force.” That column ran during the budget discussions that led to a 7.5 percent cut in each city department, and the panel would have looked at CPD staffing plans, cross-referenced them with call logs and verified that Hagerty and his captains had found the most efficient use of their decreased resources.

Burkland wasn’t too keen on the idea (still isn’t), and no one on the council ran with it.

Maybe now someone will, since we’ve gone beyond concerns over budget numbers to the very reason we devote those dollars to public safety: so that the public feels safe.

This spring, Hagerty stated that service would suffer if CPD’s budget took a hit. Meanwhile, the police officers’ union has been negotiating a new contract with the city, which would have had trouble matching what the firefighters got even without the sweeping cuts.

What rang true in April rings true in August: Chico PD collates crime statistics and analyzes its dispatches. No offense to Hagerty or his team, but segments of the public have trust issues when it comes to the police. (See: disorderly events ordinance.)

Open up the department to a task force including Burkland, council members and law-enforcement professionals from outside the area. Better yet, 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 CPD worry—and in that case, we all should be worried.