Fullerton Stories recently posted a two part interview with newly minted Mayor Greg Sebourn, covering such topics as development and attracting and retaining businesses in town. Part II of the interview ends with publisher Davis Barber asking Mayor Sebourn to comment on his relations with the Fullerton Police Department in the aftermath of the negative campaign waged against him by the police union during the last election cycle.
Perhaps seeking a conciliatory tone, Mr. Sebourn states that he has good relations with individual officers, but makes a startling assertion. At 9 minutes, 40 seconds into the video, he claims that “there is a distinct difference between the officers in uniform, the black and whites, and the union representatives that represent them for labor negotiations.” And, ”The opinions and fears that were brought forward by the police association may not be the same concerns or fears that the uniform officers and the other officers in the city might have.” He continues by saying that “on an individual basis” he thinks he has “an excellent relationship with all the officers,” and that he has “never had an issue in recent years with any of them in particular.”
It is good to know Mr. Sebourn’s interactions with officers of the Fullerton Police Department are so congenial, but the division he attempts to draw between FPD officers and the Fullerton Police Officers Association (FPOA) representing them is a fantasy. Just a quick comparison between the FPOA’s website and a simple examination of the union’s most recent campaign filing reveals that, of course, every single one of FPOA’s Board and President are active officers of the Fullerton Police Department. FPD officers routinely pay hundreds of dollars each in union dues annually. It is the officers who elect the President and Board to represent them. Whether the people sitting across the bargaining table from the Mayor and City Council are the same officers he sees on the streets or hired negotiators to represent them is hardly the point. The union members are the officers in the department, and what they want is more money, better equipment and working conditions, and less scrutiny from the taxpayers who provide it to them.
The FPOA is now the largest single source of campaign spending in Fullerton City Council elections. It is their political influence that keeps us from having true civilian oversight of our own police department. During the 2014 campaign candidates for Fullerton City Council were sent questionnaires from the FPOA to help the union determine who they would support (and oppose) in the race. The questions were not only those a union might be expected to ask of candidates on behalf of its members, like how many officers ought to be hired, and how to structure their retirements, but also about laws defining their legal culpability and special rights, for example:
“Do you support/oppose reducing or eliminating any of the provisions of the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights (POBR)?”
“How do you feel about civilian police review boards and or (sic) police auditors? Do you feel they should be used and if so how?”
Greg Sebourn was first elected during a Recall in 2012 that unseated three incumbents largely because of their inadequate response to the killing of Kelly Thomas by members of the Fullerton Police Department. His swing vote against asking for a police services bid from the Orange County Sheriff shortly thereafter elicited cheers from an audience packed with FPOA organized supporters, but gained him no support from the union in the long run. Even though the FPOA spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to unseat him two years later, he was handily re-elected to a full four year term over Larry Bennett, who was endorsed by the union. In the same interview he states that the 2014 campaign, which saw the FPOA smear him in multiple mailers and robocalls, was “dirty and ugly,” but he thinks that “we need to move on.” But it is precisely the motivations and tactics of the FPOA that keep the residents of Fullerton and their elected representatives from being able to move on. Greg Sebourn should remember this fact, and take heart in the electorate’s confidence in him over the narrow interests of the police union.