The death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez at the hands of Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Erick Gelhaus has resulted in the formation of the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, a 21-member panel charged with considering an independent civilian review board for law enforcement—something the U.S. Civil Rights Commission recommended for Sonoma County in 2000. The task force comprises a cross section of Sonoma County, with a healthy mix of ethnicity, gender and social class represented, from former Sonoma County supervisor Eric Koenigshofer and nonprofit directors like Amber Twitchell of Voices Youth Center to Santa Rosa Junior College student body president Omar Paz Jr. Other members include those from law enforcement and government.
The panel had its first meeting Monday night in Santa Rosa, primarily to discuss procedural steps, but members were eager to move past the boilerplate and into the discussion of making changes to the current system. The four main topics (and deadlines for recommendation to the board of supervisors) outlined for the task force's consideration include: civilian review of officer-involved fatalities (March 14); options for community policing (April 30); elected vs. appointed coroner's office (June 31); and providing additional community feedback on related topics (Dec. 31).
"We do not have, in our back pocket, what our recommendations might be," said Jennifer Murray, deputy county administrator, stressing the openness of the process. With a nod to both past and future, task force member Francisco Vásquez suggested a provision that the recommendations made by this group be revisited five or 10 years later, to ensure accountability for a community seeking answers and change. A full list of task force members is available on Bohemian.com.