For someone who thinks that the people of Fullerton have not lost faith in their police department, Chief Dan Hughes sure isn’t taking any chances. As the trial of two former Fullerton police officers accused of second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and assault and battery under color of authority in the beating death of Kelly Thomas nears, Chief Hughes wants to prepare us for what we might hear about his department in advance. A preemptive letter sent to Fullerton residents warns that we “will likely read and hear reports about the trial, including comments and opinions both positive and negative, concerning the officers who were involved and the Fullerton Police Department in general.”
(The entire letter is reproduced below. Strangely, at press time, it doesn’t appear on the website of the City of Fullerton, the FPD page on that site, or the department’s own site, Fullerton Police News.)
Anyone who doesn’t live in a deep hole in the ground should know to expect to hear some harsh evidence presented against former officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, but taking the step of sending a two page letter to households across the city makes one wonder what else might come out in court. One could argue that there is some value in letting residents know what positive steps FPD management has taken to ensure that no other homeless people are arbitrarily beaten to death by its officers, but at .36 cents per letter, it will have cost the department more than $ 16,000 to mail it to every household in Fullerton. At at time when the city is closing libraries and the streets are falling apart, couldn’t you think of better uses for that money?
In the letter Chief Hughes summarizes several steps the department has taken to address “more than 50” recommendations made by the Office of Independent Review, the Michael Gennaco-led firm hired to conduct an audit of the FPD’s policies and procedures in the wake of the Kelly Thomas beating death.
Most involve better training for officers, improved public relations, or including outside experts to provide counseling to crime victims. Not until the penultimate paragraph of the letter does Chief Hughes address recommendation number 59 of the OIR report—the need for independent oversight of the Fullerton Police Department.
Rather than adopt a comprehensive model for community-based oversight, the Fullerton City Council opted in September to follow the recommendation of Chief Hughes himself and hire the OIR to periodically audit his department and provide other services in cases involving violent behavior by FPD officers. But the Chief now writes that he is “assembling a citizen’s advisory board that will include a cross-section of the community…” After having so staunchly resisting the adoption of a carefully considered plan developed by members of the Fullerton community itself, Chief Dan Hughes now claims that his advisory board will somehow help to maintain the “trust and confidence of the community.” The Rag will consider this heretofore unannounced, and unsanctioned, formation of an advisory board at greater length in the near future, but it is difficult to take the Chief’s plans seriously after his absolute rejection of the plan presented by the Police Oversight Proposal Committee.
With a compliant City Council majority safely in place, the Fullerton Police Department should have little to worry about, politically speaking, at this time. This letter may be an indication, however, that they are concerned that the trial, which will stretch into early 2014, may have a deleterious effect on candidates backed by the political arm of their officers’ union. After the Fullerton Police Officers Association spent over $ 35,000 to support two candidates in the November 2012 elections, just one was elected, and then only by a razor thin margin of 29 votes. So look for more taxpayer funded-communication by the FPD in the future to let you know how much they esteem your confidence and trust In them.