In the first of two public forums about Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board, nearly 30 people voiced their opinions about overhauling the body created to serve as a check on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Tuesday’s meeting near uptown Charlotte drew a small but diverse cross-section of the city – neighborhood leaders, civic activists seeking reform and some people who felt they’ve been wronged by the police.
Many echoed opinions that have been voiced for months, after an Observer investigation showed that the Citizens Review Board people can appeal to about allegations of police misconduct has always sided with police.
Most at the forum agreed that the board needed more authority. Some said the CRB should have independent investigative powers. Others said the board should be given subpoena powers.
“If you can’t subpoena some people and put them under oath – and later prosecute them if they lie under oath – then the board doesn’t have any teeth,” Lowell Faison said. “If they don’t have that fear, they don’t have any reason to tell the truth.”
In the 16 years since its establishment, 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.
The Charlotte City Council voted in April 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.
This week’s public forums are a major step in that process. People also can submit recommendations online.
People who think 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.
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.
Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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