National Opinions

The Fresno Bee: A police auditor urged after video beating incident

A disturbing video showing a Fresno police officer repeatedly striking a man in the head with his fists while another officer seeks to restrain the man has drawn national attention. It has also sparked anger from some in the community and vigorous defenses of the police department from others.

A full investigation has been promised by Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Mayor Ashley Swearengin, and conclusions about the incident and the officers' actions should wait until that investigation is complete. It's important to get the full story of the incident, which may not be told in the short video taken Monday morning by a bystander.

But one thing is clear: The City Council's strenuous resistance to an independent police auditor for the Fresno Police Department is misguided and counterproductive.

This is precisely the sort of situation in which an independent auditor would serve everyone's interests, from the officers involved in the incident, to the man they were arresting, to the rest of the police department and the community at large.

An independent auditor is an unbiased representative of the public who investigates complaints. If those complaints turn out to be valid, the auditor would work with the department to make adjustments to improve service and safety. In most cases, independent auditors in other cities find that the police acted correctly.

Swearengin said she supports the idea of an auditor during her recent campaign. Former Mayor Alan Autry made several attempts to create the position. Chief Dyer favors an auditor. But past councils have balked at it.

One reason for that opposition has been the argument that the vast majority of police officers perform their duties with both professional competence and sensitivity. That's true -- and it misses the point entirely. It is precisely those officers who would be best served by an independent auditor.

When officers commit breaches of the conduct expected of them -- and that will happen occasionally, in any city, in any department -- it is the good ones who are tarred with that brush. Internal investigations, however honest and thorough, will never satisfy everyone, and they will always leave doubts that hang over a department and its officers.

That's bad for the police and bad for the community.

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