Santa Rosa police auditor seat to remain empty for at least several months

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Santa Rosa’s new police chief will have until the end of the year to give the city manager feedback on what he thinks is needed from a new police auditor, a process that will extend a vacancy in the auditor role past the one-year mark.

It was among the first tasks handed to Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro when he took over as head of the department in August following the retirement of his predecessor, Hank Schreeder.

Santa Rosa officials initially tried to hire a replacement after the departure of the city’s first police auditor, whose contract was not renewed in December following his public critique of the city’s efforts to address homelessness, but the job posting netted no response. A second attempt later that spring was postponed by the city upon the selection of the police department’s new leader.

While Navarro’s review and subsequent recommendations will help inform the selection process, Santa Rosa City Manager Sean McGlynn will have the final say as to who will be hired, city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said. An updated request for a proposal for a new contract auditor won’t be posted until Navarro has provided his input, Mertens said.

“(Navarro is) spending his first 120 days doing an evaluation of what we had in place before and evaluating the format for our new auditor,” Mertens said. “It wasn’t a flawless system before, so that’s part of the need for the assessment.”

Santa Rosa’s first and last police auditor, Palo Alto attorney Bob Aaronson, was hired for the part-time position in January 2016. However, his work with the city’s police department began two years prior when Schreeder asked him to produce a one-time review of the way the department investigates citizen complaints and other internal affairs investigations.

As police auditor, Aaronson was tasked with evaluating internal investigations into alleged officer wrongdoing and uses of force, receiving community complaints about local officers directly and making recommendations for how to improve the department.

His recommendations led the Santa Rosa Police Department to create a professional standards unit, one responsible for investigating the most serious internal investigations, within 16 months of his arrival. He also evaluated the department’s implementation of body-worn cameras and in an annual report presented to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in November warned officers against pressing mute on the equipment until calls for service were completed.

Aaronson’s work was criticized, however, particularly over his two public annual reports, which critics argued included too few details about Aaronson’s work and findings. In the first one, which he presented to the Santa Rosa City Council in April 2017, for example, Aaronson provided no information about the nature of complaints filed with the department the year prior, or how they were resolved.

His remarks on the city’s approach to homelessness, which he said fell short, riled city leaders during a Santa Rosa City Council meeting in November.

Navarro said his review will focus on understanding how Aaronson conducted his work before his departure, as well as examining what department procedures would benefit most from an auditor’s pair of eyes. How the department responds to public records requests under Senate Bill 1421, which starting this year unsealed certain records into officers misconduct and uses of force, was one example, Navarro said.

“I think it’s important to provide this feedback and say ‘These are some of the advantages that came with the last auditor that we had and these are some of the areas that things could of improved on,’” Navarro said. “I want to be able to have somebody who can be part of addressing our accountability moving forward.”

Navarro said he’ll also ask members of the public to weigh in on what they’d like to see in a police auditor during a series of upcoming community meetings, so he can incorporate their comments in his recommendations to McGlynn.

Aaronson did not return calls asking for comment by Saturday afternoon.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

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