Santa Rosa to seek new police auditor after spat with current watchdog

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Santa Rosa will search for a new police auditor after a sharp public split between the City Council and the current watchdog, who upset council members last month after he critiqued the city’s efforts to curb homelessness as ineffective.

Palo Alto attorney Bob Aaronson’s contract is up at the end of the month, and the city will soon put out a call for a new independent police auditor, City Manager Sean McGlynn said.

Aaronson, who is paid $11,000 per month, has embedded with the Santa Rosa Police Department from 2016 to 2018 to examine how officers use force against civilians, vet the department’s handling of internal investigations and citizen complaints, and to observe daily police operations.

He said Friday he considered his three years in Santa Rosa among the best of his professional career, but after November’s back-and-forth with council members, he didn’t see a future for him in the city.

“I’d love to continue to be able to continue to doing the job, but I don’t think it’s realistic at this point,” he said.

Aaronson’s latest report, based on his work in 2017, included the observation that Santa Rosa’s efforts to address homelessness hadn’t made “an appreciable dent in the problem.” Council members pushed back at the Nov. 13 meeting, saying his first-hand encounters with police enforcement did not give him enough familiarity with city policy to weigh in with expertise about the issue.

Aaronson, reached last week, said he had no regrets about his critique but did lament times when he felt he stopped trying to persuade the council.

“There are times when I stopped using my words to try to pick the lock, and instead I got angry and I threw rocks at windows,” Aaronson said.

The city will solicit offers from interested potential police auditors in an upcoming request for proposals. Aaronson said he thought the scope of the police auditor’s role would be narrowed going forward.

“It’s my understanding that the new RFP will prevent the auditor from doing some of the things I’ve done and said,” Aaronson said, declining to specify further.

The forthcoming request for proposals was still being drafted Friday, city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said. The scope would continue to include review of police personnel investigations, use of force and community complaints, she said.

Aaronson has been invited to reapply for the post, and while he hasn’t ruled out doing so, he isn’t optimistic about his chances. He said he had offered to stick around on an interim basis until a new auditor is hired but the city rejected that proposal, he said.

McGlynn said Aaronson had been invited to remain with the city to handle citizen complaints about police. Aaronson said he wasn’t interested in that role.

The auditor job and an independent Sonoma County agency responsible for similar oversight of the Sheriff’s Office were both formed after a sheriff’s deputy in 2013 fatally shot Santa Rosa teenager Andy Lopez.

Aaronson’s work spurred the creation of a professional standards unit, responsible for conducting the most serious personnel investigations, and more recently recommended that Santa Rosa officers stop muting their body-worn cameras during service calls and enforcement actions.

McGlynn called Aaronson’s efforts leading to the professional standards unit “excellent” but said the city needed a more competitive process to fill its police auditor position. The position reports to McGlynn, but the auditor’s contract is subject to City Council approval.

It’s unclear how much of Aaronson’s findings in 2018, if any, will be reported back to the city. Aaronson said he normally would have produced a report in early 2019 based on his observations this year.

McGlynn said Aaronson has not given the city an indication whether he will produce a report.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @wsreports.

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