Saturday, August 13, 2016

[San Diego County] El Cajon rejects findings of grand jury reports on homelessness and police oversight

August 11,2016 (El Cajon) – Tempers grew heated during Tuesday’s El Cajon City Council hearing, where Council member Tony Ambrose scolded a citizen, Richard Graydon, who had criticized the City's approach to homelessness.  The agenda included the city’s responses to two critical Grand Jury reports, one on homeless issues and the other calling for formation of a citizens’ police oversight board. 
The City determined it already does enough to help homeless people--more than other East County cities-- and also concluded there is no need to allow citizens'oversight of any complaints against El Cajon Police.
In response to the Grand Jury Report faulting East County cities for not doing more to address homelessness, El Cajon City Manager Douglas Williford compiled a list of homeless services operating within El Cajon and told Council, “There is no suburban city whose response even approaches ours.”
The City is mandated to submit a formal response to a Superior Court judge regarding the Grand Jury report.  Williford told the Council, “Our draft response for your consideration is extensive, it is pointed, it is detailed. We believe the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations were in error.”
Richard Graydon, a veteran, then turned in a speaker card. He suggested that the City can do better. He stated, “What we need to do is a lot more and we need to be working with Father Joe in San Diego and some of the others to build a complex for these people.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Ambrose then snapped at Graydon. “What do you do to help the homeless? Is there anything that you do to help the homeless?” he asked.”Why don’t you start a non-religious group to help the homeless?”
As Graydon tried to respond, Ambrose interrupted, saying “No, I’m talking now, you spoke, I’m talking now.”
Later in the meeting Ambrose apologized to Graydon saying, “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
When asked about the incident, Ambrose, who is not running for reelection, replied “It’s very unlike me and I apologized. I worked as a consultant for Father Joe’s for years. That’s one of the issues that’s very near and dear to my heart. I was just having real problems with what was coming out of his mouth.”
The City Council voted 4-0 (Councilman Bob McClellan was absent) to approve Williford’s response to the Grand Jury report on homelessness.
The Council also voted to reject the Grand Jury’s recommendation that in order to build trust within the community, a Citizens Commission should be founded to independently investigate complaints against the Police Department. Thus, when a complaint is filed, the Police Department will continue to be responsible for investigating itself.
El Cajon did however make progress on the Grand Jury’s goal of building trust between Police and the community by authorizing the purchase of police body cameras. This item had been on a prior Council agenda but was tabled until the same meeting as Council’s responses to the Grand Jury.
El Cajon is the seventh city in San Diego County to purchase body cameras for its police force. Now, in case of a violent incident, there should be more concrete evidence to establish fault. The body cameras also have a 30-second buffer. This means that when they are turned on by an officer, they will have recorded the 30 seconds prior to being activated.
Regarding the homelessness issue in El Cajon, Williford told East County Magazine that “probably two-thirds of our homeless community are from East County and their relatives are right here. And that’s both interesting and tragic at the same time. People always ask me why are certain people always in El Cajon? The answer is they grew up here; this is their home.”
August 11, 2016
East County Magazine
By Jonathan Goetz

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