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OPINION: Santa Rosa Police Department Auditor forthright

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OPINION: Santa Rosa Police Department Auditor forthright

This week some of us social activists in the community were invited to attend a meeting with newly hired by the City Manager, Auditor of Oversight for the Santa Rosa Police Department, Mr. Bob Aaronson. 

Though some of us expected more of the same, and the usual stock answers concerning his Position, and the job of the police, we were pleasantly surprised at the openness and candor Mr. Aaronson offered.

He welcomed our questions, input, and listened intently to the people in the room who came with a certain sense of trepidation. Some of us are downright displeased and angry at the police and their tactics, use of excessive force, aggression, bullying, profiling, and lack of engagement; he knows all too well that what we are dealing with in our County is happening all over this country. .It was over 2 hours of back and forth, constructive Dialog and I’m sure we could have talked another 2 hours easily.  He was forthright, and didn’t give us a lot of goopity-guck about the culture of law enforcement. More transparency is usually a good thing.  This has been the struggle for a long time between activists and our Sheriff where “lack” of transparency, unfortunately, is a huge problem

As many people know, law enforcement in our County is met with much distrust and there is a belief amongst people that the police do not wish to engage with some communities and even distance themselves from those they are hired to protect and serve.

This obviously puts a strain both on both the Police and the communities.  

The Santa Rosa Police Department is moving towards some changes that will really help people engage more freely with police in a candid manner and in time, hopefully trust and believe, the police are there to help them. An important factor is for the police to be approachable and accessible.  I think In some ways this is happening in Santa Rosa.

Chief Schreeder wants to have more transparency and I do not know if he would say he welcomes oversight but I believe he knows it’s necessary these days.  In any event it appears Mr. Aaronson is welcomed by the Police Department and that seems to be a good start.

i must make the distinction between the Police Department and the Sheriff Department and how many people see a vast difference merely by this simple outreach from SRPD.

For many of us in the room our riff lies with the Sheriff Department in this County and lack of Oversight, since the majority of deaths and misconduct at the hands of Law Enforcement have happened through the Sheriff Department.  The Sheriff Department is facing 6 major lawsuits in the last 2 years. One was recently settled for $1.24 million dollars.

So, the credibility problem with law enforcement clearly lies more heavily on Sheriff Freitas and his Department.

I believe the efforts of the SRPD should be applauded and perhaps the Sheriff Department could take a lesson or two from Santa Rosa! There will soon be an auditor for the Sheriff Department hired by the County though.  Perhaps this will help improve the image of the Sheriff and his Department personnel.  Time will tell.

As many of us know, understanding will only come when there is willingness to engage and listen to the people you serve.

I thank the efforts by SRPD to reach out and explore better ways of serving their community.

At our meeting, I do not feel we touched nearly enough on Prevention and that is a problem for me.  Oversight is after the fact.  Many auditors do not want to deal directly with policy changes.  For activists in the community we hone in on policy changes and accountability.  This is where we still do not have a meeting of the ways with law enforcement.

 Mr. Aaronson comes with an impressive resume but more importantly he appears to have a real genuine concern for the Police And the people in the communities they serve.

I wish him the best .

Marni Wroth is social activist: Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez & the Andy Lopez Free Speech Picket Line.