Has the OC Human Relations’ Police Cultural Awareness Program been effective in Anaheim?


One of the positive functions of local blogs is to identify the urgency of certain issues in our immediate community, and try to promote a constructive debate on how to address them.  Recently this blog has posted several articles on the frustrating, insensitive conduct of the Anaheim Police Department in impoverished, mostly Hispanic, neighborhoods.  Some of the issues, as compiled by Cynthia Ward in  this recent post, include the following:

  • Good kids without criminal records put into the system because they stopped to play basketball with the neighbor they have known since Kindergarten – thus earning a label for “associating with known gang members.”  There is no known appeals process for getting your otherwise good kid off the list, and as it’s not a criminal charge there is no obligation for a trial, sharing of evidence, or even notification that your child has been labeled in such a manner.
  • Officers involved in shootings are reassigned to the same neighborhoods, where they routinely encounter the families and friends of those they shot.  They are permitted to interact with witnesses in pending investigations, and those who have filed lawsuits against the City – because there’s no policy against the practice.  This includes at least one officer whose case is still being reviewed for potential criminal charges by the DA – openly cruising the neighborhood where some witnesses have reportedly not yet given statements to the DA’s investigators.
  • Reports of officers involved in shootings verbally harassing or threatening family members of the deceased, and allegedly making threatening statements to neighborhood leaders.
  • Policies that allow bodies damaged with graphic injuries to lie on the pavement for hours, in full view of children, before being taken to the morgue.
  • Reports of disrespectful handling of the deceased in view of others.  Neighbors report that Joel Acevedo was stripped naked and dragged to the Coroner’s vehicle.  In an area with extremely strong cultural reverence for the dead this is doubly insulting.
  • Anna Drive bystanders (especially children) who witnessed friends, family, and neighbors fired upon on by Police had no way to determine officers were not using live rounds.  While the information was disclosed as residents were injured instead of killed, the fear induced by that event has left otherwise innocent witnesses in need of counseling.
  • Reports of officers coming to the homes of family members of the deceased, behaving in a disrespectful manner toward those not accused of any crime, with what is perceived as the apparent intent of intimidation.
  • Reports of discrepancies in the District Attorney’s review of the shootings, along with what appears to be no consequence for failing to activate the expensive digital audio recorders to capture evidence of the contacts, creates doubt of the veracity of the investigations.
  • Fear of conflict of interest, as Police union leader Kerry Condon serves on Council member Kris Murray’s host committee  for her re-election campaign kick-off, leave many convinced she will not risk the wrath of the most powerful public employee union in the City. Records show the Anaheim Police Association has spent hundreds of thousands in independent expenditure money for their chosen candidates. What are the odds Murray (or others) will call them on the carpet for their behavior?

Rusty Kennedy.

In an attempt to bring these issues to the attention of other institutions, I contacted the Executive Director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, Rusty Kennedy.  Here’s what I wrote to Mr. Kennedy:

I am contacting you as a 25-year Anaheim resident shocked by the last year’s riots.   I have been learning about the issues and got involved addressing them.  I understand that your commission has intervened in the subsequent riots events, particularly in the Anna Drive neighborhood.

I would like to know what the protocol is to request your commission’s assistance on the listed issues. I feel that the city authorities are not adequately and timely addressing them, which is fomenting a potentially volatile atmosphere.

This was Mr. Kennedy’s response:

“You ask about the protocol for raising the issues listed to the Commission.  There is no requirement or set way to raise issues, we would respond to any of the specific cases listed if the aggrieved party called, e-mailed, contacted in person, or showed up at our offices.

“James Armendaris of our staff is a police complaint specialist and could help anyone with a specific complaint about an officer’s actions.  He can be reached here at 714-567-7470.

“As for the activities of OC Human Relations in Anaheim before, during and after the civil unrest, there are many.

“James and other staff went to Anaheim the night of the first riot, and dozens of times after that day, to assist individuals and see if there were any things that could be done to prevent violence.

“Prior to that outbreak of violence our staff facilitated a community meeting at Ponderosa School in the Library for the residents and the Anaheim Police Chief to talk about the rumors surrounding the fatal shooting of Manuel Diaz by APD there in the neighborhood.  This tense meeting was a critical communication link that helped to dispel some of the incorrect rumors, and build a new sense of trust between Anaheim Police and the Latino immigrant community.

“OC Human Relations has also been working with high school and junior high school students at schools all over Anaheim including Sycamore Junior High that serves Anna Dr.  This is done through our BRIDGES Program that teaches young people to be leaders and speak out about issues that are important.  We teach them to create school climates where ALL kids are safe, valued and included.

“After the ATF/Anaheim Police joint raid to arrest suspects in the murder of a 14 year old boy in a gang related shooting at Sycamore a year previously, OC Human Relations staff went door-to-door to speak with Anna Dr. residents, give them flyers from the Anaheim Police department that explained what the multiple arrests were for, and to listen to what the community members were thinking about the arrests.  In those conversations our staff were able to dispel the false rumor that the raid was in retaliation for the riots that took place just days before.  We explained that the raids were as a result of a year-long investigation into criminal activity growing out of the gang related shooting death of the 14 year old.

“Additionally, as our staff spoke with different families there that morning, we were able to assist two or three of the families who had members arrested.  We helped them find where they were taken, the charges being filed, how to get them legal representation, and in fact we went to court with one of the families at their request.

“OC Human Relations also taught cultural awareness to Anaheim Police officers at the request of the Chief of Police, and we shared insight into the plight of the families in neighborhoods like Anna Dr. who felt squeezed between the gang members recruiting their children and the Police coming in after the gang members and not knowing that their kids were not gang members.  So they could understand better that the vast majority of the residents are families trying to survive in very difficult situations with little recreational area, streets that are unsafe, and poverty that gave them few alternatives in where they lived.

“OC Human Relations has also consulted with the City Manager, City Council members, Police Chief and command staff about how to create safe venues for hearing public testimony about the issues you have raised and others.  About how to include diverse voices in the decision-making process.  About what are some of the concerns we hear from the community.  And how to prevent violence.”

Mr. Kennedy’s recognition of the very difficult conditions of these neighborhoods, and his advocacy to include diverse voices in the decision-making, is encouraging.  It is unfortunate though that his efforts, other than preventing further violent outbursts, are not producing additional positive, timely results for the affected communities.

The cultural awareness training provided to the APD has not modified its insensitive behavior. The commission may have funding and political limitations preventing it from assuming a more effective role, but these limitations have already eroded the trust of significant sections of the community.

I hope that the police departments and local politicians help to restore the commission’s credibility and trust, by addressing issues such as the ones listed above.

About Ricardo Toro

Anaheim resident for several decades. In addition to political blogging, another area of interest is providing habitats for the Monarch butterfly. http://www.orangejuiceblog.com/2013/12/caterpillars-crossing-in-a-city-at-a-crossroads/