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Some members of countywide task force formed after Andy Lopez shooting uncertain of future

  • Members of a community task force convene at their first meeting at the Sonoma County Human Services Department in Santa Rosa, Calif., on January 13, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

The task force studying a wide range of community grievances and issues exposed last year in the shooting death of 13-year Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy is grappling with how to complete its hefty work load under what some members say is unclear direction from county leaders.

Formed by the Board of Supervisors in December, the 21-person Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force is about a third of the way through the year it has to make recommendations on four complex topics: a model for independent citizen review of officer-involved shootings; whether to separate the Sheriff's Office from the Coroner's Office; suggestions for community policing; and ways to repair trust in law enforcement among residents, especially those in the Latino and minority communities.

The panel must also weigh in on 11 directives the supervisors asked staff to research, including buy-back programs for firearms and toy guns; creating a community park in Lopez's neighborhood on the outskirts of southwest Santa Rosa; and providing officers with body-mounted cameras.

But at Monday's task force meeting, after county staff recommended not to move forward with a toy gun buy-back program, some members expressed confusion about how they were supposed to respond.

While they said they valued the chance to weigh in, some members said it sometimes felt like the presentations were detracting from the time they have to work on the core issues before them.

"I'm kind of frustrated," said task force member Judy Rice, who also leads the county Commission on Human Rights. "I feel like I'm not sure what our role is" and what staff's role is.

Task force member Joe Palla, a Cloverdale city councilman, echoed her sentiments.

"Clarification certainly needs to come forward," he said. "We're getting a lot of information and I'm not sure what we're supposed to do with it."

Both Rice and Palla said they were not criticizing staff, who have done an "excellent job" researching the directives, they said. The overall process, though, has lacked clear direction from top officials, particularly the Board of Supervisors, they said.

The concerns surfaced as many on the task force say they hear the clock ticking in regards to the large amount of work before them.

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