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City seeks public input on reforming board that reviews claims of police misconduct

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

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Charlotteans will have a chance next month to suggest ways to strengthen the Citizens Review Board, which investigates allegations of police misconduct but has always sided with police in its 16-year history.

A task force – made up of members of the Citizens Review Board and the Community Relations Committee – is seeking to get feedback and suggestions from the community and groups of concerned stakeholders. The task force will present its findings to Charlotte’s city council, which will determine what changes, if any, to make to the Citizens Review Board.

“If nothing else, I think this will be an educational exercise,” Gregory West, chair of the CRB, told other members of the task force on Thursday. “We’re all a part of this. There might be ideas and suggestions we haven’t thought about.”

In 16 years, citizens have filed 79 complaints about police misbehavior with the Citizens Review Board. But a Charlotte Observer investigation showed that the 11-member volunteer board, after meeting behind closed doors, first with the citizens, then with the police, has voted to dismiss almost every case without holding a hearing.

At an April meeting attended by dozens of sign-waving residents in favor of reforming the board, the city council voted to examine the mandate and powers of the CRB, a decision that could ultimately give residents a better chance of proving that they’ve been victims of police misconduct.

Next month’s community forums are the first major step in that process. People can also submit recommendations online.

Gathering stakeholders

The task force will also meet with several stakeholder groups: the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, students and staff at the Charlotte School of Law who have studied the board and recommended changes, and members of a coalition group that has advocated for reforming the board.

“We’re ecstatic that the city will be working with us as we move forward in this endeavor,” said Matt Newton, a Charlotte defense attorney and one of the organizers of a group called CRB Reform Now. “Part of the reason why we wanted to have a stakeholder group was because we wanted to gather a number of representatives from across the community.”

People who feel they’ve been victims of police misconduct can appeal to the CRB if they are not satisfied with the results of a CMPD investigation into their complaints. But residents who appeal to the review board must meet an unusually high standard of proof before the CRB will hold hearings on their allegations of police misconduct. The board has only held four hearings in 16 years. After each hearing, the board ruled in favor of the police.

The Citizens Review Board has little authority. It cannot take disciplinary actions against police officers or award damages to citizens. Board members can only advise the police chief and city manager if they believe CMPD’s disciplinary decisions were serious mistakes.

In a memo to city council, Police Chief Rodney Monroe said he doesn’t think the makeup or powers of the board need to be changed. He has told the Observer that he believes his department does a good job of policing itself, and that the CRB has been responsible for department policy changes that have held police more accountable.

Wootson: 704-358-5046Twitter: @CleveWootson
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