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Bredefeld v. The World: City Council devolves into high drama of chaos, crisis

The Police Board: a likely culprit for payback

The Staffer Incident on May 23 may have been enough to make Bredefeld explode, but it was something that happened in the Council Chamber a week earlier that finally tipped the Big Five into full-blown revenge mode.

The issue was Mayor Brand’s Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board.

As you may recall, Brand wanted unanimous council support for his 14-member (nine voting, five non-voting) panel of citizen volunteers. The panel will work with the police auditor to build trust between cops and civilians.

The board is strictly a creature of the Mayor’s Office. Procedurally, Brand didn’t need the council’s approval. Politically, he couldn’t proceed without it.

Many politically powerful social justice activists despise Police Chief Jerry Dyer and his officers. The rank-and-file officers know this. So do leaders in the cops’ union, the Fresno Police Officers Association. At the same time, the activists are committed to the creation of a citizens board with full authority to pass binding judgment on the actions of cops in the line of duty. Brand’s challenge: Get the social justice warriors and the FPOA to buy into the his version of a one-size-fits-all oversight board, thus giving council members the needed cover to approve something over which they’ll never exercise a bit of control.

Brand on March 16 got some but not all that he wanted. The council gave its collective blessing, but the vote was 5-2. Brandau and Bredefeld voted no.

The hearing unfolded in a way that almost certainly drove the Big Five crazy.

Brand was first to the public microphone. He described his board. District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp was next. She spent more time describing her office’s process for investigating officer-involved shootings than singing the board’s praises. Then came Dyer. He’s a City Hall survivor. The Chief gave Brand what he wanted.

Then it was FPOA President Damon Kurtz’s turn. Everyone in the audience, everyone who read a newspaper or watched the TV news in the preceding week, had been led to believe Kurtz and the FPOA board loved the Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board.

Kurtz told the council that the Fresno Police Department has trouble keeping enough officers on the streets. He said the low number of officers affects response times and harms economic development. He said law enforcement across America is demonized. He said “law enforcement is now the criminal and the criminal is the victim.” He said the media are “not about getting the story right; it’s about getting the story first. Often, we’re tried in the media for what the public thinks, not the facts of the case.”

Kurtz said all this abuse of police officers, both nationally and locally, leads to the key question before the council: “What is this board?”

Kurtz concluded his remarks by answering the question. He said both rank-and-file cops and FPOA board members initially viewed the board as a potential vehicle for a “witch hunt.” He said Brand’s recent explanation to FPOA board members convinced the union that the advisory panel is primarily about “looking at ways we can be better.”

For that reason, Kurtz said, the FPOA board supports Brand’s proposal.

But, Kurtz added, cops know all about the sincerity of political promises.

“That’s really what this is about and what most of the opposition is about, even from my own members and even from myself and my skepticism – what this board could be,” Kurtz said. “But instead of worrying about what this board could be, we’ve taken a leap of faith and decided to support the Mayor on this endeavor and on what (the advisory board) is today. So, it will be up to us to keep a watchful eye on what this is, and make sure it doesn’t become what we fear it could become. We don’t want the witch hunt to come. That’s what we worry about. We want to build trust. We want the transparency, and we welcome the public’s input on what we do and how we police our communities. And, hopefully, like Lee said, this becomes an example for other communities and how they move forward on such boards or committees.

“And the last thing I’ll say, because we are taking a leap of faith, is I have a saying: No good deed goes unpunished. In this case, I hope I’m wrong.”

That’s my candidate for the most tepid policy endorsement ever.

A short time later, District 3’s Baines spoke from the dais.

A former Fresno police officer, Baines in his brief remarks appeared to confirm Kurtz’s worst fear. Yes, Baines said, some in the community wish Brand’s advisory board went further. But, Baines added, the advisory board as it now stands almost certainly will evolve into something different and better.

“I believe that there is an opportunity to grow this (board),” Baines said. “There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing today. There’s nothing wrong at all. And that is what I want to remind my colleagues on the dais. I want to remind people who are listening. There’s nothing wrong about this. We’re trying to move in the right direction.

“Is (the board) perfect today? Absolutely not. And I think no one would swear to that. But we are trying to move this discussion in the right direction, and what we need is partners to move this discussion along. Some people would disqualify themselves from that discussion. I’ve heard it. I’ve heard people who are absolutely – on both sides – who are so filled with vitriol and rhetoric that they literally disqualify themselves from the conversation. I’m not interested in those people. I’m asking for people of good will who really want the right thing to step up, be involved in this discussion, partner with our mayor, partner with our police, the police partner with the community, and let’s actually move this needle. Because it can be done.”

Now, keep in mind where things stood at that moment. The Mayor, trying to fulfill a campaign promise to create a police review board that few among his North Fresno political base ever asked for, was praying that the hearing wouldn’t unravel. The cops union had just warned the politicians that its support for the Mayor’s board was about as strong as wet Kleenex. Baines had just predicted that the advisory board’s mission, a mission that Kurtz hoped would never change, most definitely will change with the application of time and pressure. And the council’s Big Five, who had gone far out on a limb for Brand by supporting the advisory board without demanding any control or influence in return, were praying as fervently as the Mayor that the hearing would quickly end and everyone would just forget about civilian oversight of Fresno cops.

Then Bredefeld got the microphone. He spoke for more than 10 minutes – longer than Brand.

All 10 minutes were full of fire.

Bredefeld said the cops already work with a ton of outside oversight. He some people will never trust cops, no matter how many advisory boards are minted. He said City Hall’s focus should be on hiring more cops. He said he shares Kurtz’s fear that the advisory board will turn into something for hammering the police. He said the police auditor’s work over the past seven years has not reduced crime in Fresno.

Bredefeld was just warming up. The other council members and Brand (sitting in the audience) could only watch in silence.

Perhaps worst of all, Bredefeld said, the council is making no effort to exercise its authority.

“The city council is completely excluded from this entire process,” Bredefeld said. “This is the elected body; this is the accountable (body); we each represent about 70,000 people and we’re completely excluded from this process, yet there are nine voting members and five other non-voting members – who are unelected, who are volunteers – who will be charged with a lot of very serious responsibilities.”

Bredefeld had delivered his verbal punch to the Big Five’s gut, but didn’t wait for a response. He called Kurtz back to the public microphone. What followed was a series of 12 questions. Bredefeld did the asking, Kurtz the answering.

For example, Bredefeld asked: Would Brand’s advisory board put more cops on the streets? No, Kurtz softly answered.

The questions came with the speed and power of a machine gun. The result was political showmanship at its best/worst (depending on one’s point of view).

Another example: The advisory board, Bredefeld said, “just adds another layer of government bureaucracy. Is that fair?” Kurtz: “Basically.”

Kurtz took his seat. The other council members continued to listen in silence.

Baltimore, Ferguson, Dallas – cities where cops were hounded by public officials or lost their lives to cop haters. Bredefeld mentioned them all. He noted that thugs had recently fired shots at a Fresno police car.

Bredefeld was coming to his conclusion. He wasn’t shouting. He was in control. But the “hammer” metaphor is apt. He was hammering and hammering on his unequivocal support for the police and, by implication, the failure of much of the City Council to do the same as evidenced by its support for the Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board.

“Now, while Mayor Brand has said he was going to do this (the advisory board) from Day One, I said from Day One I was going to oppose this,” Bredefeld said. “I said from Day One I’m going to stand with the police. I’m not going to allow them to be scapegoated. I’m going to ensure they have the support and the resources they need to do their job and to go home safely, just like all of us do. I’m interested in solving real problems, not engaging in political correctness or feel-good legislation… I want to have the discussion about how we’re going to keep our city safe, not create another phony board to harass the police. I want our police to know we support them. Because I’m telling you – the people out there, they believe in their police department, and they just want more of them. And I intend to make sure that that’s what we do.”

I’m not saying Bredefeld was right or wrong to express himself as he did. I am saying the Big Five wouldn’t be human if two thoughts hadn’t flashed through their minds as they headed home that night: “What if Brandau and, especially Bredefeld, are on the right side of history? And we’ve got to send Bredefeld a message he can’t miss.”

That message was sent on March 23.

And don’t forget who created the Blah-Blah Award for council chatterboxes.

Paul Caprioglio.


Feature Photo: The Fresno Bee

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

2 Comments

  1. The article has a number of flaws, not least of which a lack of editing. The amount of factual and grammatical errors makes me wonder if anyone bothers to do their homework. Another point of contention is the gross mischaracterzations, no one in their right mind would confuse Paul Caprioglio with Garry Bredefeld, one is a craven, lazy, dirty old man, while the other is an articulate, hard charging person of principle. It’s even less believable reading how Caorioglio is “tough as nails.” If ever there was a chicken-hearted councilmember it’s Paul Caprioglio, how he was confused as being tough as nails is laughable. If he were as tough as Mr. Hostetter says he is, then instead of making a living as a gutless fraud he would stand for something. Caprioglio wants to think of himself as a Machiavellian type when in reality he behaves contrary to the great strategist. By trying to “send a message” to Bredefeld’s staffer, Caprioglio’s betrays himself by overplaying his hand. It’s clear from reading this article Bredefeld hired staffers that serve him well, as they used one of the great laws of power: Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker.

  2. Our council people are the problem. I’m closer politically to Bredefield and Brandau. So far not impressed with my freshman Councilman Chavez nor our Freshman Mayor who I voted. Chavez and Olivier reek of political opportunism from a voters perspective.

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