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There are times when perception usurps reality, and nowhere is that more true than in law enforcement. It’s the perception of danger that prompts an officer to take the life of an unarmed suspect, and it is ONLY the perception of danger that the officer is held accountable for in the typical District Attorney investigation of an officer-involved shooting.
I truly believe the vast majority of law enforcement professionals are decent men and women who show up for work day after day wanting to do a good job. Unlike Robo-Call Pringle, I wouldn’t be so brazen as to presume to speak for the majority of Anaheim residents. I can only say that most people I personally speak with seem to appreciate the very difficult position the Police find themselves in. The general sentiment (as I see it) is that the public wants to work alongside the Anaheim Police Department to reduce the crime affecting all of us, and we want a true partnership in which we understand and trust one another. But that partnership only with two-way communication, and that communication is something we lack right now.
It sends a mixed message to claim that officers do not want to shoot young men on the street, and then claim that the system we have in place works just fine. If the system worked fine, why are there twice as many shooting victims at the hands of Police over the last two years than officers killed in the line of duty in the entire history of the Police department? Plainly, something is NOT working. The current system of self-examination for law enforcement is clearly unable to address whatever unique set of circumstances make Anaheim officers so much more fearful on duty than their counterparts in nearby cities. We need to get to the bottom of that fear and distrust before anyone else gets hurt. This must stop. To claim the system works is to say the death rate is acceptable, and it is not.
Nowhere else in government do we allow a department to review themselves – in fact that idea would be ludicrous in any other setting. In his State of the City address, Mayor Tom Tait pointed out that auditing our financial books is not a condemnation of the book-keeper, it is simply a common mechanism which assures the public that fiscal policies are followed and a standard of responsibility is met. Those audits also reassure the book-keeper that he or she is not subject to false accusations or changing standards. Accountability simply puts everyone on the same page. Why would we not extend that credibility and assurance to our law enforcement professionals?
Kerry Condon, the president of the Anaheim Police Association (the most powerful public employee’s union in the City) is spending vast amounts of time, energy, and union money sending a forceful message to the public. But he would do well to stick with facts.
I hope Condon does a better job when he helps the District Attorney assemble credible evidence for court, because his scare story that Oversight makes communities less safe is not backed up with specific examples from other cities where it’s been tried. Instead he loads messages with empty rhetoric, angry political attacks, and blatant lies that are easily checked and debunked. His emotionally charged buzzwords are designed to elicit kneejerk reactions. He doesn’t want you to think, only to feel.
Citizens who question the complete lack of transparency in the system of review are labeled “gang lovers” and caricatured as tattooed thugs chanting “F%#K the Po-lice!” into a bullhorn. Meanwhile at the other extreme, calls to “Support our police!” become twisted into “Never question law enforcement at any time for any reason no matter what.”
Somewhere in the middle of those black-or-white all-or-nothing attitudes are 350,000 Anaheim residents wondering what the Hell has happened to our city?
Union leader Kerry Condon would have us believe that the conflict stems only from two shootings last July, but this has been building for much longer – there have been nearly a dozen lost souls in the last few years! That Condon fails to see how much damage has been wrought is frankly alarming. Like a teenager angry at his parents for wanting to check his room, the more Condon struggles, the more Mom becomes convinced there may be good reason to check under her son’s bed and in the closet. What is it Kerry Condon is so afraid of?
Either Kerry Condon shares the confidence that Mayor Tait and many others like myself have in our fine officers, and together we will find new policies to reduce the tension, fear, and shootings that are taking place in Anaheim, or he doesn’t. I suspect one problem may a mistrust of the public pool of candidates with which to fill the Oversight Committee appointments. Mr. Condon often speaks as though the Committee will be filled with enemy forces intent on the destruction of the Police department. Sadly, the increasing militarization of law enforcement too often means the public is no longer seen as partners in the fight against crime, and instead perceived as hostile opponents to be conquered, subdued, and kept in place. Is that what’s driving the division of our hometown?
Some argue that the Police are able to police themselves, but it was under Kerry Condon’s supervision that the office manager for the Police union – the only employee Condon was tasked with managing – was charged with embezzling $360,000 from them, in a period from August 2007 to March 2012. The (alleged) theft went unnoticed despite the reported use of such unsophisticated tools as a typewriter erase function to change the staffer’s paycheck amounts, something easily detected with one review of a bank statement. Condon never realized there was a problem until the IRS notified the union that their manager had failed to file taxes.
As a leader on full release, Kerry Condon still pulls in the pay, benefits, and seniority of his Police position, but is not subject to duty assignment, and union dues repay the City for his compensation while he offers his full attention to his union duties. When Kerry Condon cannot manage the oversight of his one and only employee, when running the union is his one and only occupation, I question his ability to determine how much oversight is adequate for hundreds of officers in positions far more stressful and potentially incendiary than that desk environment of his manager.
Condon’s most recent exploits include inflammatory and deceitful email blasts, facebook page posts, and robocalls, all designed to incite class warfare and hatred for Mayor Tait (the most prominent advocate for civilian oversight) as his political enemy. One recent blast went so far as to photoshop a picture of Tait’s face onto a piggy bank, while claiming “Mayor Tait tried to bully his City Council colleagues into a 50 percent increase for his part-time personal & political aide, who contributes only one percent into her own pension.”
But anyone who watched the Council meeting in question could clearly see WHO was being bullied, and it sure wasn’t the other 4 Council members. The Mayor was not trying to increase his budget, he was only trying to restore it, after his office staff was the only budget cut requested by Council in a $1.4 billion plan following a generous union giveaway to other City employees in the same budget. The cut left Tait without the ability to pay his 30-hour-a-week Policy Aide Mishal Montgomery, who carries a Master’s degree in her field, and is neither personal nor political in her assistance to the Mayor of the 10th largest City in California.
Condon is lying about Tait’s actions, and when he focuses on Montgomery’s pension costs, while dishonestly claiming Tait has somehow harmed Police pensions, he is being malicious and hypocritical. Anaheim’s Police officers pay NONE of the employee contribution for their own pensions – we CITIZENS pay the employee share as well as the employer cost of 30.623%. Mr. Condon and his friends cost the City roughly 40% of their pay in pension costs, (above their take-home pay) and they are the ONLY department to enjoy that arrangement. Condon is the last person on earth with the right to begrudge others their pay, and he accelerates the distrust by fudging about it.
For reasons I have never understood, the thin blue line wraps itself most protectively around those whose bad behavior tarnishes the public’s perception of the police force. When we cannot trust the spokesperson of the department to be truthful, is it any wonder we struggle to trust those who elect Condon to his position as the public face of the union?
Recognizing the danger in allowing mistrust to define the Police force, last summer Deputy Chief Raul Quezeda said, “If our community doesn’t trust us enough to tell us what’s going on, we won’t be successful.”
The very brave men and women of the Anaheim Police Department need to dump their union rep for a new leader, and work together with the Mayor and the public to create a system which reassures all residents that the process is as transparent and accountable as legally possible, that facts are reviewed by trusted neighbors and not just a wealthy and distant District Attorney with a reputation for protecting friends. One would think the majority of the force would welcome any change in the process that helps them feel safer on the streets, because the system we have is not doing the job.
Should they choose to take this path I know many Anaheim residents who will gladly stand shoulder to shoulder in support of those officers who want a clean house. Until then, we continue to hold our breath, fearful of the next explosion we pray does not come, knowing the system is set up to create the blast, and knowing there are some who even welcome it, because they can put the pyrotechnic display to their own use. May God help us.