Shooting the messenger

Why is Andy Holcombe taking flak for his racial-profiling comments?

I was impressed by the anger in Will Clark’s voice when he addressed the City Council on Dec. 20. The president-elect of the Chico Police Officers Association was really pissed off about something Councilman Andy Holcombe reportedly said at a Dec. 14 meeting of the Police Community Advisory Board, and he wanted the world to know it.

The PCAB meeting had been announced as an opportunity for citizens to talk with Chief Mike Maloney about the issue of racial profiling by police. According to a report by Greg Welter in the Enterprise-Record, about 60 people were in attendance, and the meeting got off to a slow start until Holcombe “broke the ice” by stating, “I’ve received at least a few calls over the last two years from people complaining about being profiled by the police due to race, but they told me they were afraid to go public with it.”

Maloney responded, “At some point people with complaints must take personal responsibility to pursue the problem as they perceive it,” to which Holcombe responded, “The problem is the process.”

Following this brief back-and-forth, a number of other people spoke up, and many of them said that people were either afraid to file complaints for fear of retaliation or believed their concerns would be ignored.

Maloney, for his part, promised that any complaints would be taken seriously, and that if people didn’t trust the Chico police they could take their concerns to the district attorney or the county grand jury. He said he valued the dialogue.

Not Clark, however. His voice rising as he read a prepared statement, he accused Holcombe of alleging civil-rights violations unsupported by facts and, in doing so, creating “the false impression that a destructive wedge exists between members of the Chico community and the officers who serve it faithfully.”

If Holcombe received any credible reports or complaints of civil-rights crimes and didn’t report them, Clark stated, “he has ignored his obligation as a community leader and as an officer of the court.” Harsh words.

But Clark, who wasn’t at the earlier meeting, didn’t contact Holcombe to get his side of the story, which was that the people who talked with him weren’t interested in going further with their complaints. And Clark completely ignored the fact that other speakers said much the same thing as Holcombe.

My experience is that Chico’s police officers are well trained and by and large try to be fair and even-handed, but over the years I too have heard from people who felt they’d been targeted because of their race. I’m not surprised. It’s tricky business, catching bad guys. If your job is tracking Latino gangs, whom do you target? Not the old folks at the Peg Taylor Center.

My take is that Clark and the CPOA and all the angry conservatives reviling Andy Holcombe should stop trying to shoot the messenger. He’s right: As long as people are afraid to come forward, the process is broken and needs to be fixed.