Cuff 'em: Policy, Procedure and the Police Auditor

As handcuffing by cops grows in prevalence, George Hostetter looks at the Fresno Police Auditor’s complicated role.




My sidewalk chat with Maria raised in my mind three questions about the Office of Independent Review.

First, was I wrong to tell her to go to the police auditor office in City Hall?

Yes, said the first city official I asked.

“The operative word in Office of Independent Review is ‘review,’” he said.

The OIR isn’t a complaint-taking enterprise, he said. The police auditor only reviews how the cops handle citizen complaints that make their way to the department’s Internal Affairs Division.

I didn’t believe that. I was at City Hall when Mayor Ashley Swearengin and the City Council debated the legislation that created the OIR. The politicians constantly touted customer service as a key reason for the OIR.

Yes, Rasmussen told me, Maria could have gone to the OIR in City Hall and filed a complaint that would have been forwarded to the police. He said he has received nothing from the woman I described.

Second, would Maria be able to find the OIR?

Not unless she was as familiar with City Hall as the city manager.

The Office of Independent Review is located in the Development and Resource Management Department (called DARM) on the third floor. DARM is a big place. The OIR is way in the back, out of sight.

A DARM receptionist and a dozen or so employee cubicles separate a visitor from the OIR’s home.

And there’s not a sign anywhere in or outside City Hall that tells a visitor how to get to the OIR (at least I didn’t see any when I checked shortly before Thanksgiving).

It’s like a bad joke. Yes, City Hall encourages you to go to the OIR and file a complaint. But City Hall makes it next to impossible for you to find the OIR.

“Yes, I guess the signage could be a little better,” Rasmussen told me.

I was told that a citizen who finally finds the OIR, only to discover it empty, can go to the waiting room of the council/mayor offices on the second floor, ask to speak with Laura Gloria, City Manager Bruce Rudd’s executive assistant, and explain his point to her.

Third, is it time for another round of reforms at the Office of Independent Review?

I’ll leave that up to mayoral candidates in next year’s election.

But one thing is certain. The OIR, born to such fanfare in late 2009, just can’t seem to find its legs.

Eddie Aubrey, the first police auditor, didn’t seem to know what to do. His brief tenure ended in a very public spat with then-City Manager Mark Scott. On top of that, the OIR couldn’t find a permanent home that made the slightest bit of strategic sense. The office was originally housed in the Dickey Youth Center – the police auditor stuck in a community center! Then the office moved to the basement of a non-descript building on Tulare Street, near Courthouse Park.

Rasmussen, who began work in September 2012, has consistently produced quarterly and annual reports. He played a pivotal role when the Administration unveiled its response to the arrest of then-Deputy Police Chief Keith Foster on drug-trafficking charges.

But Rasmussen, unlike Aubrey, is a half-time employee who spends much of his time in Salt Lake City. City officials once pretended that Rasmussen would someday be full-time. For now, the pretense is gone.

It’s hard to imagine the current situation is what the City Council or Fresno’s half-million people had in mind back in 2009.

Rasmussen at the end of our second phone interview said he would take a look at a specific piece of police handcuffing policy.

“In light of the political climate, in light of events across the United States, in light of your questions, I will examine investigative detention in my next quarterly report,” he said.

I gather from our talks that “investigative detention” is what happened to Maria – handcuffing during a brief stop, then release without arrest.

I suggested to Rasmussen that the day will come when he, as police auditor, attends a tense community meeting. It might be in West Fresno. The community center will be packed. The Mayor will be there. So, too, Chief Dyer and City Manager Bruce Rudd. Someone in the audience will take the public microphone and complain with passion about what he claims to be an unjust handcuffing – an unconstitutional seizure of his person. And there will be a murmur of agreement rippling through the audience that threatens to build to a rumble.

What, I asked Rasmussen, would he say to that citizen?

“I didn’t see your complaint. And if I didn’t see your complaint, how can I investigate?”

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