“OVERWHELMING FORCE” – Sgt. Montanarella’s shot across Anaheim’s bow


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Some time in the next couple of months, the Anaheim City Council will vote to pick a new permanent police chief.  But it won’t exactly be the Council choosing between candidates, as you may think.  The way it will work is new City Manager Marcie Edwards will come forward with the candidate she thinks best, the Council will vote yes or no on that candidate, and if it’s a no vote, Marcie will have to come back with another one.

Harvey and Quezada being promoted last October.

Thus far, the well-liked interim Police Chief Raul Quezada has been thought to be the top contender, to have the “inside track.”  Previously deputy under Chief Welter (beginning around the Troubles of last summer) Raul speaks fluent Spanish, as does his apparent right hand man Captain Julian Harvey, who may also be a friendly rival for the position. 

Quezada and Harvey have made some news in recent months by meeting several times with mothers of young men slain by Anaheim cops, as well as members of Los Amigos and other activists and community leaders, most recently in a roundtable at Lorri Galloway’s ESCRI (or Eli Home.)

Partially as a result of those meetings, they’ve agreed to make several reforms, geared toward more openness, accountability, and fostering a dialogue with troubled communities.  For example,

  • a couple of gang-unit officers were transferred out of neighborhoods where they had killed;
  • cops (in uniform) are now required to keep their digital audio recorders on whenever they make contact with a civilian;
  • Harvey has taken on the task of making all police guidelines available online, and the process of filing a complaint has been greatly facilitated;
  • and the first steps have been taken toward forming neighborhood councils to communicate each community’s concerns to the police.

It could be expected that some of these changes, modest as they may be, might be resented and resisted by some of the rank and file officers, don’t you think?

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Well, it appears that pushback has begun, in the form of a July 31 Register column penned by a Sergeant Tony Montanarella.  (Skip the paywall here, thanks to Matt Cunningham.)  Bubbling through the unremarkable bulk of his column is a burning resentment against a perceived culture of “favoritism and cronyism” where “qualifications and experience” go unrewarded, and against current and recent leadership, specifically Quezada and his predecessor, the originally forward-thinking but progressively more weak and pathetic John Welter

It’s not a common thing for an officer to complain in such a public forum about his department and superiors, and it seems to me this augurs more than just one disgruntled cop letting off steam.

Both Cunningham and Gabriel San Roman are correct to catch Montanarella’s unmistakeable attacks on Quezada and Harvey, who remain unnamed:

“Currently, the department is obsessed with catering to a very angry, vocal minority with political agendas at the expense of the overwhelming majority of the population we serve who support us and appreciate what we do.”

That is how the Sergeant characterizes Quezada and Harvey’s program of outreach to troubled communities, and Cunningham heartily concurs, “I think we can guess to whom he is referring … and whoever does take the rains [sic] shouldn’t accord undue influence and attention to a vocal minority in Anaheim who believe the worst in police and view gangs and gang members through a soft-focus lens.”

But to me, what struck me hardest from the Sergeant’s column was the passage hailing…

***OVERWHELMING FORCE***

…as the only thing that saved the day during last summer’s “unrest.”  To quote:

The only reason calm was eventually restored was because of the courage and professionalism of the department’s rank and file officers and overwhelming force, as officers responded to assist from all over Southern California. It was not because of the leadership of the command staff at Anaheim PD.

Remember, he’s not referring to the famous spontaneous July 24 riot, which only ended when the furious crowd of locals was worn out – there was no great police presence that night. 

What he’s talking about is the generally peaceful (if angry) protests in front of the police station for the few Sundays that followed, until they gradually ebbed away in late August.  And the “overwhelming force” he’s referring to is the completely unnecessary and exaggerated militarization of Anaheim’s streets, documented on this blog by Duane Roberts and by many others.

We still don’t know how many millions of taxpayer dollars were squandered defending society from those four or five Sunday protests (OUTSIDE A POLICE STATION!)  The Register reported $1.7 million in Anaheim police overtime pay alone.  (It’s amusing to walk past cops on days like that and overhear them laughing and chattering about what they’re going to do with all their extra pay.)  Police forces from across the County and beyond joined in on the fun.  Equestrian units were brought in from Santa Ana.  Military vehicles, SWAT teams, snipers on the roof, the whole she-bang.  And for what, really?  The riot was already over, by midnight of July 24.

The vast white voting public, if they weren’t already terrified by the broken windows of July 24 and the spectacle of colorful angry protesters thronging in from outside city limits, were convinced that if the police force was putting this much manpower and firepower into protecting them, it MUST be from something truly horrible.  And when it came time to lay blame for the insane costs, they held it all against the protesters and brown hordes, not a police force bent on wagging its dick.  Even poor Chief Welter claimed to be shocked and surprised at the military display, and I think I believe him – at that point things seemed to be under the control of his then-deputy Craig Hunter.

The good Sergeant lauds the “courage” of the officers at those Sunday protests.  Not to take away from the actual courage of any policemen, but really, how much “courage” did it take on those days to stand there in your Kevlar and helmet with your submachine gun at the ready, and stare down sad and angry people with signs?

The ridiculous display prevented nothing, stopped nothing.  After a few weeks of protests, the local people gradually began to stay home, either withdrawing into their depression or apathy, or to talk at City Hall and eventually meet with police chiefs.  And the colorful angry outsiders eventually found other places to go be colorful and angry.  Snipers and SWAT teams influenced not a one of them.

It’s the height of revisionist history to suggest that some violent revolution was on the verge of happening and was only prevented by this cartoonish display of “overwhelming force.”  Does the Sergeant really believe that?  Or does he (or whoever urged him to write this piece) just want to re-ignite that good old fear in the hearts of white voters?

“Putting our own house in order first.”

That’s another little thing that bothers me in this column, after reading it a few times:  What does the Sergeant mean by “putting our own house in order first” – #3 in his 3-part to-do list for the PD?  Who could be against getting their own house in order?  But that could mean almost anything.

It seems that in the Sergeant’s usage, it means NOT engaging with the community as the current leadership has been doing, instead looking inward, battening down the hatches, and fostering a sense of LOYALTY within the force.  As ironic as it sounds for this disgruntled sergeant to be touting “loyalty,” I’m reading that here as a code word for that trait notoriously seen among many police where their allegiance lies more to each other and their department than to the public they serve and the Constitution they’re sworn to uphold – something perilously close to what’s called the “Blue Wall” of silence, where the last thing they would dream of doing is to inform on another officer’s misbehavior.  And how good is that?

Let me go ahead and copy over that paragraph, and you tell me if I’m misunderstanding it:

…Currently, the department is obsessed with catering to a very angry, vocal minority with political agendas at the expense of the overwhelming majority of the population we serve who support us and appreciate what we do. No organization has credibility with any group or entity if it’s in turmoil internally. Let’s make the changes we need to make to insure our officers and employees are respected, valued and have a strong sense of loyalty to each other and the department.

For whose benefit is this column?

It really sounds like as the Sergeant describes the ideal candidate for Anaheim Police Chief, he has somebody specific in mind that he’s not naming, and it’s not him – he specifically says the candidate must come from “outside the department” and have “more experience” than Quezada’s laughable twenty years.   Gabriel points out the irony of this Welter-hater locating a magic bullet in outsiderdom, when Welter himself was hired away from San Diego originally – to me that only confirms that the Sergeant has someone specific in mind.

So I’m wagering that the next shoe to drop will be some hero appearing from outside the city, galloping in on a white horse wanting to be Anaheim’s next chief, someone with more than twenty years experience, someone who believes in overwhelming force, in police staying loyal to each other above all, and someone who looks with disdain on such effete hippie notions as community outreach and transparency. Any takers?

The most troubling part of all this, and I hope I’m wrong…

I guess what’s most disturbing to me about this column, after thinking about it for a couple weeks, is that it seems like a sign that, like everything else in Anaheim, the police chief choice is about to become POLITICIZED.  That is, the Council majority and the corporate interests who back them will take the opposite side from the Mayor and the progressives and conservatives who tend to agree with him.  I HOPE I’M WRONG.  I had thought that the sort of modest reforms Quezada had been making were something most everyone would agree with.

But the first sign that I might be right, that it’s getting ready to be politicized, that this Montanarella column is coming from the direction of the Pringle-Chamber corner, is the haste with which Matt Cunningham – Cunningham who works side by side with Pringle and is paid by the Chamber – fell all over himself to praise it, even while admitting he didn’t understand it all.  I mean, Matt thought the column was so important for you and me to read that he even provided a link to bypass the Register‘s firewall – has he ever done that before?  Isn’t that a little … illegal?  Crooked?  But that’s how important this column was, to Matt (and his bosses.)

We already know that two things the Council majority stands for against the Mayor are: 

1. Unlimited corporate welfare, and

2. LIMITED democracy (i.e. “at-large” districts.) 

Will we now have to add a third leg of

3. Brutal unaccountable policing? 

I hope I’m wrong.  Because those sound like three legs of a very sinister stool.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.