Open Mic: Low Morale

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Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro recently told a City Council sub-committee that morale is low among his officers. “The negative perception of law enforcement, local or nationwide, impacts community trust in police departments,” he said.

What the Chief failed to mention was that SRPD Independent Police Auditor Bob Aaronson raised similar concerns in 2018 when he reported to the City Council that officers working directly with unsheltered people were suffering from sagging morale due to doubts about effectiveness of the city’s policies. Homeless advocates immediately corroborated Aaronson's account but a defensive City Council summarily fired him for criticizing their policy. No inquiry about officer morale was carried out by the Council.

Protests this year in Santa Rosa over the Floyd murder and resultant police violence have led to seven legal claims against the city alleging excessive force by police officers. Protesters sustained injuries caused by police officers’ use of tear gas, batons and projectiles. Marqus Martinez, a young Pomo leader who was shot in the face with a sting-ball grenade fired at close range, is among those suing the city.

The Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights subsequently detailed a swath of human rights abuses by police dating back to 2007. At least six articles of the International Declaration of Human Rights were routinely violated. The Commission also found in August 2018 that the rights of homeless individuals here were systematically broken, thus “increasing risks to safety and health and reducing any sense of dignity and support of people for whom viable options for housing do not exist.”

Observers of police in Santa Rosa agree it’s not a negative perception of police that’s impacting trust, it’s negative police behavior itself that causes pervasive mistrust. In other words, law enforcement is reaping what it sows.

Chief, the buck stops with you—please take responsibility to immediately remedy faulty policies and training, and improve accountability and transparency. When the public sees positive change taking hold on the streets, there is every reason to believe community trust will rise and officers will be safer and enjoy better morale.

Kathleen Finigan lives in Santa Rosa.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the “Bohemian.” We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

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