Mayor Anthony Foxx has asked City Council to examine how Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board investigates complaints of police misconduct after an Observer story showed the panel has never ruled against police in 16 years.
Foxx sent a memo to council members on Wednesday saying he’s asked city staff to schedule a workshop presentation on the board for the April 1 council meeting.
“I understand many in the public, and perhaps on the Council, still have outstanding questions about the disciplinary process and City’s ordinance for the Citizens Review Board,” the memo said.
The board was created in 1997 after three unarmed African-Americans were killed in separate incidents by white officers. It was designed to restore public confidence by giving an independent determination when allegations arose about police wrongdoing.
But the Observer found that people appealing police disciplinary decisions had virtually no chance to win because they must meet an unusually high standard of evidence for the board to hold a full hearing, and the review board has no independent power to investigate.
In the Observer article, critics called the board a rubber stamp for police.
Patrick Cannon, the chairman of the council’s community safety committee, said he had also planned to make a proposal for more investigation at the council’s next meeting.
“I think there are areas for consideration of how the board can be strengthened and I’d like to explore the best practices of other cities,” Cannon told the Observer on Wednesday.
Among other things, Cannon said he’d like the city to investigate whether the board could subpoena people involved in cases to testify, and whether it could be given the ability to initiate its own investigations.
In February, CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe responded to the Observer’s article with a memorandum to the mayor and City Council.
In it, Monroe said he believes “the ordinance as written serves the needs of the community.” Monroe did not recommend any changes.
Monroe told the Observer this week that he is in favor of any type of review of the board.
“If they want to look and study it more, I’m all for anything that’s going to give (citizens) more trust and confidence,” he told the Observer. “I’m not going to sit back and say don’t do it.”
Still, Monroe said, the police department’s handling of officer misconduct has “evolved over the years.”
The department monitors allegations of officer misconduct – everything from claims of excessive force and rudeness to missing a court date, and investigates.
In his memo, Monroe told City Council members that the purpose of the Citizens Review Board is to examine whether the chief of police abused his discretion in the way he disciplined an officer, “which does not necessarily mean that the officer was not disciplined.”
From 2004 to 2011, more than 3,000 disciplinary actions, including more than 500 suspensions, were levied against officers, Internal Affairs reports show.
But national experts, local attorneys and past board members say Charlotte’s review board lacks the power necessary to provide effective oversight of CMPD.
In some other cities, boards can launch independent investigations. Charlotte’s board stands out because it only looks into appeals after a police Internal Affairs investigation.
In cases where the Citizens Review Board has sided with police, Monroe told the Observer, “people weren’t given free passes. We’ve taken appropriate action, oftentimes before the cases appeared before the Citizens Review Board.”
He said the board also serves an adviser to the police chief and to City Council. Recommendations by the 49 people who have served on the board have led to increased accountability measures, Monroe said.
“We got in-car cameras with the help of the board,” he said. “They’re the ones that said ‘we’d like to see more documentation.’ We now videotape and audiotape every statement, not just of suspects, but also of witnesses.”