The commission did make a recommendation in 1994 that led to limitations on the use of the police department's notorious gang list, notes Benavidez. So far, though, the commission's most lasting policy recommendation has been on so-called "civil standby" incidents. Civil standby refers to cases--like Gary Johnson's--where one citizen tries to retrieve belongings from another under police supervision. People complained that police officers were too often siding with one party against another, and at the commission's behest, Chief Michaud approved a change in policy that resulted in more clearly defined guidelines requiring officers to "remain neutral in these situations and...not actively participate in the recovery."
Though no formal complaints were ever filed following this year's or last year's Cinco de Mayo celebration, Benavidez says the commission has set up a task force comprising three commissioners to look into police policy regarding crowd control. So far, that group has not come back with any recommendations. As for the Truax case, Benavidez says, "we talked about some of the policy issues, but we're volunteers, and we don't have the ability to look at every policy."
Benavidez agrees with Ford that the commission hasn't "looked at policy as much as we should." But she questions whether the reverend brings anything to the table in that regard. "I never heard him bring an issue to the council," says the chairwoman.
Ford admits that when he sees something wrong, such as the Gil Webb incident, he's more likely to talk to Michaud than to his fellow commissioners. "I'm not dumb," he says. "I'm gonna take it somewhere where it'll do some good."
And while the other commissioners seem either content or resigned to play their parts on the limited stage that's been set before them, Ford continues to go it alone, complaining about the commission's treatment of both cops and citizens. His mind is always spinning--sometimes too much, he acknowledges. "That's probably my biggest problem," he says. "I have a hard time accepting what people tell me. I have to find out for myself."
Maybe, says Ford, that's why he tends to schmooze his way through difficult situations--just as he did in the Gil Webb case. "I've been in the city over forty years, been in the clergy more than twenty years," Ford notes. "I know a lot of people. What, am I supposed to be morbid with everybody?"
Certainly not. The phone rings. It's Michaud. And the chief is quickly invited over to Ford's place for Memorial Day.