Kopy Katz 

Mayor's Police Accountability Ordinance Looks Suspiciously Familiar

"You don't empower any organization by telling them what to do," said Mayor Vera Katz at last Wednesday morning's city council meeting. The subject: the political hot potato of police accountability. Three weeks earlier, city council members Jim Francesconi and Randy Leonard had abruptly demanded an ordinance forcing the police chief to provide updates on the bureau's efforts to be safer, gentler, and more responsive to the public. At the time, Katz rebuffed that effort, staking out the police bureau as hers, and making it clear that if anyone was going to make recommendations, it would be her alone. Ultimately, when the council members submitted their ordinance, Katz raised a stink and helped shoot it down.

But last week, Katz introduced two similar ordinances that order police to report on what efforts they've been making to bring about better training and a more diverse work force. Both ordinances passed unanimously--including conditional support from Leonard and Francesconi.

When introducing the new ordinances, Katz explained how hers differed from the Francesconi-Leonard plan: "The [police] bureau asking the council to approve changes as opposed to the council telling the bureau what to do is subtle, but very important in terms of management style," she explained. Under one of Katz's ordinances, the city pledged its "renewed commitment" to community policing. Her other proposed ordinance "express[ed] city council support for police bureau planned initiatives to enhance its community policing services." The ordinances largely leave policy changes in the hands of the police chief.

Although the ordinances did provide important endorsements for police accountability, they ultimately came off as wishy-washy promises. Exactly how the ordinances would bring about changes to the police bureau seemed, by and large, uncertain. And, in his closing remarks, Francesconi pounced on those ambiguities.

"What are we going to see?" Francesconi directly asked police chief Derrick Foxworth, who had largely been providing platitudes about how the police bureau planned to recruit more minority officers and better train its force. "Are there going to be performance measures? Are there going to be particularities on what progress you're making?" he asked, finally punctuating his cross-examination with, "Specifically!"

Under the ordinance, the chief is required to provide a report by early October about improvements in training, like how to extract a motorist from a vehicle without shooting him, and communication skills to de-escalate confrontations with citizens. Although not mentioned by name, the recent fatal shooting of James Jahar Perez was clearly a force shaping the dialogue. In April, Perez was shot dead by an officer after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation. Less than a minute later, the officer had shot Perez three times in the torso. He was unarmed.

Although the ordinances received only minor public and media attention, the hour long council debate and the history leading up to the debate provided a case study about outgoing Mayor Katz's management style--and, even more relevant, how city hall might operate once her tenure has ended this coming January.

When providing testimony, Chief Foxworth pointed out that more than a decade has passed since any other police chief had appeared before council to report on community policing--a period of time which coincides, probably not coincidentally, with Katz's tenure and with the waning use of community policing.

The debate also provided a mixed report card on mayoral hopeful Francesconi's management style. There was general consensus that his goal for better training standards was admirable, but his methods were questioned as grandstanding. Likewise, in explaining hiring methods for diversifying the police force, his tact was earnest but clumsy. His diplomacy skills could also use a bit of brushing up. When addressing Foxworth's qualifications, he first stated that the police chief was the "perfect" choice to bring about more accountability. He then paused and backed up. "Perfect?" he asked. "Well that's a bit strong. Very good."

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