The Police Log

Why transparency is important

On Saturday night, I drove with my two-year-old daughter to the store to buy cookies. Once there, I saw four police cars parked in the parking lot. The store, on the outskirts of Roseland, was open; no lights blinked on the cars, and four or five officers stood around, casually chatting. Whatever had brought them there had clearly passed.

As I got my daughter out of the car, I noticed a twenty-something kid, Latino, with sports gear and a cap, walking on the sidewalk. All of the officers stopped talking and looked at him. He said something to them, and they charged up to him on the sidewalk. One mentioned he could smell alcohol on the kid’s breath. Within 10 seconds, he was in handcuffs and up against the wall.

This seemed strange.

I’m not a police-accountability activist. In my life, I’ve never questioned police officers in the line of duty to their faces. But when I left the store, and one smiled at my daughter and me, I had to ask. Did the kid say something that caused them to put him in handcuffs?

One of the officers turned and growled at me: “This is none of your business.”

I stayed calm. “I do have a right to observe police activity.”

“But you don’t have a right to interrupt,” he snarled in rising tones. “You need to leave.”

“I’m only wondering why you’ve detained him.”

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll take her”—pointing at my daughter—”and get out of here. Do you understand?”

I didn’t understand. The kid was taken care of. There were four officers. Couldn’t one have explained that perhaps the kid was a suspect in a robbery or had flashed a knife, or some other explanation?

The message was clear: You need to stop asking questions.

This week’s cover story is by Robert Edmonds, whom I willfully acknowledge has been very outspoken in his work with police accountability. But I believe he’s exercised fairness in reporting on police funding from Measure O, and the inability of the department to produce consistent and accurate gang-related statistics that would measure the effectiveness of Santa Rosa taxpayers’ voter-approved investment.

And especially after Saturday night, I also believe we need to keep asking questions of our police department, even when they don’t want to give an explanation. Or, as you’ll discover in our cover story, can’t.

Gabe Meline is the editor of this paper.

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