There’s an interesting chess match taking place in Salinas, one that involves neither an actual board nor pieces, but features a whole lot of strategy.

Now if only I could figure out who the pawns are.

The opening move happened when a consortium of activist groups – Community Before Cops, Reinvest 831, Agents of Change among them – launched a petition demanding the Salinas City Council order an independent audit of the Salinas Police Department as part of the 2021-2022 budget approval process, which gets underway in just a few weeks, owing to what the petition calls a failure of leadership and a lack of accountability.

The petition came just about a week after the council in March voted to increase the salaries of Salinas PD’s rank-and-file officers by 2.25 percent. It was a complicated scenario: The union members and the city had been previously unable to reach an agreement on a contract, the city foisted a contract on the union in 2019 and then negotiated that increase. Had the council voted against it, it would have constituted bad faith bargaining.

The vote on the increase was notable for a few reasons, but to the activists, it was tantamount to treason because two members they thought they could rely on – Anthony Rocha and Carla Gonzalez – voted in favor of it.

When it came time to carry the activists’ water, they relied on Rocha and Gonzalez to do it, and they made the formal request to the council for the independent audit.

From the petition: “The Salinas Police Department has historically violated the trust of the community by taking the lives of our community members as well, has deliberately exploited our residents on live national television, and policed youth in our local schools,” the petition states. “The City’s Police Community Advisory Committee has not convened regularly nor has it served as a vehicle for holding the department accountable to community concerns regarding excessive use of force and the mounting distrust of our local department that continues to only grow.”

Some of the asks: crime statistics for the past five years and a list of contributions that have supported the decrease in crime; an evaluation of the mental health care crisis training used by the SPD; an examination of the citizen complaint process and how complaints are resolved; a report on how state and federal grants are being used; and an update on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing 2016 report on the SPD, and how the DoJ’s 110 recommendations to improve SPD have been implemented.

When Rocha and Gonzalez asked the council for the independent audit, it seemed the council only had two choices – yes we’ll spend the money and do it, or no we won’t. But at a press conference on May 12, after this issue of the Weekly went to print, City Manager Steve Carrigan and Mayor Kimbley Craig were to present their choice – that they sent a letter to the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury to ask that body take up the investigation.

There’s no guarantee the Grand Jury will say yes, and there’s no guarantee the city will have to abide by whatever the Grand Jury recommends if they do take up the request. Rocha says he would prefer the city to hire an independent auditor.

“We can’t ask the community to trust the police department until we’re being entirely transparent with the finances of the police department and the progress on the (DOJ) reform goals,” Rocha says.

Carrigan says he could provide answers to the questions posed in the petition – the police chief, after all, reports to him – but there’s no guarantee anyone would trust in his answers because the police chief, after all, reports to him. “We decided to go with an independent, respected third-party group,” he says.

The same day the news dropped about the city’s request to the Grand Jury, the Grand Jury issued its annual compliance and continuity report, in which it somewhat plaintively stated, “It is hoped that in publishing this data, future respondents to the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury will be encouraged to comply with the California Penal Code.” The Grand Jury, in essence, knows it doesn’t have the power to force anyone to comply – here’s hoping if they recommend changes, the city takes them seriously.

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