A group of politically-appointed volunteers who hear citizen complaints about police actions in Charlotte wants part of its usually-secretive work to be made public.
The city of Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board voted recently in favor of telling the public about its past policy recommendations to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
And, the board wants CMPD to say whether department leaders have made policy changes based on Citizens Review Board advice over the past 20 years.
Give the community the chance to see the changes made and see what hasn't been changed.
LaWana Mayfield, city council member
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The board, in the past, has made recommendations about police body-worn cameras and warrantless search practices. In some cases, police have made changes at the suggestion of the review board, including making changes to audio and video recording policies and putting limitations on how officers may conduct follow-up investigations after misdemeanor traffic stops.
Most details about the policy changes and the Citizens Review Board, though, are kept private. Complaint hearings are held in private and the board’s votes and deliberations aren’t heard by the public. The city also requires board members to sign confidentiality, non-disclosure agreements.
But, the basics of advice they give to police officials should be publicly accessible, Citizens Review Board members say. Members want to promote visibility within the Charlotte community and educate more people about the board’s work and process, the board wrote in its annual report to City Council this month.
The board wants Charlotte’s city manager and police administration to produce a report of past policy recommendations and give a status update on implementation, according to the report. Direction should come from City Council, the board wrote.
Already, the issue has been referred to a council subcommittee to work on the board’s request, said Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles.
These policy recommendations are just one part of the Citizens Review Board’s oversight work with CMPD.
Over the past year, the board has heard complaints about police officers using too much force during arrests or shootings, and conducting searches at homes without warrants – a method authorities use during investigations called “knock and talk.”
Charlotte’s police review board has been sharply criticized by some for having never sided with a citizen during complaint proceedings. Some have said the board’s practices lack transparency and that closed-door meetings defeat the purpose of the board’s accountability role. City and police officials, though, have said the private hearings are necessary to protect personnel information about police officers, much of which is deemed “confidential” under North Carolina state law.
The release of policy recommendations was raised this summer after the board reached a tie vote in the case of Keith Lamont Scott, who was shot and killed by a CMPD officer on Sept. 20, 2016. CMPD leaders as well as City Council members have said the city is discussing the release of the policy recommendations written by the Citizens Review Board after hearing Scott’s case.
Such policy suggestions to CMPD have never been released publicly in the Citizens Review Board’s 20-year history.
Now, the board wants to disclose its policy work from “over the years,” the annual report states.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Mayor Pro Tem Lyles both told the Observer they support the release of policy recommendations. Both also said they want to renew the city’s pitch to state lawmakers to grant the board subpoena power in cases of complaints made against police officers.
LaWana Mayfield, City Council member, said releasing the policy recommendations would be a good move toward greater transparency by the city and police department.
But, she is concerned the request to go 20 years back may be too broad and too burdensome to city employees who would compile such records. And, she recommended the board consider adding a timeline to its request in order to help city staff narrow the focus.
“Give the community the chance to see the changes made and see what hasn't been changed ... I definitely see it as a positive thing,” Mayfield said.