Although Santa Barbara resident Bruce Rittenhouse disagrees, his city’s police department will not be subject to review by a board of local civilians.
Rittenhouse argued at the Santa Barbara City Council meeting Tuesday that local law enforcement would benefit from a citizen review board, a group of several civilians that could objectively examine the legality of police actions. The city council, however, denied Rittenhouse’s request, claiming the Santa Barbara Police Dept.’s performance was good.
Councilman Gregg Hart said the police already have a review board in the form of the city council. Hart also said the council’s position within city administration did not restrict its ability to be impartial in judging such manners.
Undaunted by such praise for the police, Rittenhouse said he would continue to push for a civilian review board.
“For the past 20 years, I have been trying for a civilian review board,” he said. “There’s no real oversight [within the police], no real accountability. We need to ask why the police fear having civilians look into what they’re doing.”
The staunch opposition to such a board, Rittenhouse said, stemmed from a too-close relationship between police and the city council.
“It was rabid favoritism of the police. … Everybody on the council was endorsed by the police [in their election campaign],” he said.
Howard Giles, a sociology professor at UCSB who has studied the internal politics of the Santa Barbara Police Dept. and acts as a reserve sergeant, said these allegations were incorrect.
“I belong to one of the best universities. I also work with one of the best police departments,” Giles said. “Most people assume bias within the department, but it’s quite the opposite. [The SBPD] will not tolerate it, and holds its officers to higher standards than anyone else.”
The police have already looked into implementing a citizen review board, but decided against it in favor of self-monitoring.
“At the end of the day, our conclusions suggested that such reviews are not as effective as you think,” Giles said. “Good outcomes come from internal investigations. The department would be more accountable [than a third party].”
Rittenhouse said he began a renewed call for a civilian review board after becoming concerned with the sting operations that ended in the arrest of gay men throughout the county for lewd conduct. The stings, part of a plan to eliminate sexually inappropriate behavior from public places, involved the presence of an undercover officer in known cruising spots and have arrested men at various beaches.
The sheriff’s department conducted a similar operation at Rincon Beach near Carpinteria in February and arrested 10 men.
Rittenhouse said the stings allowed “[gay men] to be enticed and seduced.”
Giles defended the integrity of these operations.
“Anything the police would do would have to be well checked-out with the district attorney, legally,” he said.