CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mayor Anthony Foxx is questioning how Charlotte’s Citizen Review Board handles allegations of police misconduct.
Also, the review board’s chairman says the panel will consider drafting reform proposals for City Council to consider.
In his first public comments on the issue, Foxx said Friday that he has asked Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe to respond to last Sunday’s Observer investigation showing that the oversight panel has ruled in favor of police every time in its nearly 16-year history.
“I’ve spoken with Chief Monroe and expressed my concerns to him about recent media reports on the Citizens Review Board,” Foxx said in a written statement.
He said after he receives Monroe’s response, he may ask the City Council to examine the issue.
Asked to clarify what concerns Foxx had about the review board, a spokesman declined to comment.
City Council member Michael Barnes said officials should examine why the review board has only sided with police.
“That seems like an imbalanced result,” said Barnes, who sits on the council’s Community Safety Committee. “We need to look into it.”
Monroe could not be reached for comment. A CMPD spokesman said he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the chief on the matter.
The Observer report 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. Formed in 1997, the board was created to restore public confidence in CMPD after unarmed African-Americans were killed in three separate incidents by white officers.
Residents unsatisfied with the outcome of a CMPD internal affairs investigation can file an appeal with the review board. The panel looks into allegations of excessive force; unbecoming conduct; unlawful arrest, illegal search or seizure; or a shooting.
But prominent former Citizens Review Board members, local attorneys and experts said it did not appear residents had a fair chance to prove their cases. The board’s limited authority and history of never siding with citizens in 78 cases put it among the weakest civilian oversight panels in the nation, experts and civil liberties advocates said.
Review board’s defense
Review board Chairman Gregory West and attorney Julian Wright defended the panel’s rulings in an op-ed column in today’s Observer. They said members considered evidence from both sides and ruled objectively based on criteria spelled out in the city ordinance that established the board.
“The CRB ordinance does not give the board the power or the responsibility merely to point out mistakes or object when it thinks the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department could have disciplined an officer differently,” they wrote. “The CRB only can advise the police chief (and the city manager) when a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ (more evidence than not) establishes that the chief or his Internal Affairs designees have ‘abused their discretion’ in imposing discipline.”
In an interview, West said that Citizen Review Board members will discuss whether they will draft reform proposals for the City Council to consider.
“Are there opportunities to do some things differently?” West said. “I think so.”
City Council member Patrick Cannon, who chairs the council’s Community Safety Committee, said he is willing to discuss reform only if he hears public outcry.
To this point, Cannon said he has not heard complaints from residents in “any overwhelming numbers.”
He and other officials have previously said the board has not ruled for a citizen because CMPD does a good job policing itself.
More than 3,500 police misconduct complaints were filed between 2004 and 2011. A majority of the complaints – more than 2,100 – were levied by police officers against fellow officers. Citizens filed the other roughly 1,400 complaints.
Internal Affairs found police misconduct in 26 percent of complaints lodged by citizens. When CMPD supervisors and officers filed complaints, 85 percent led to findings of misconduct.
But national experts, local attorneys and past board members say Charlotte’s review board lacks the power to fulfill its mission.
Charlotte’s board is distinctive because it only hears appeals after a police Internal Affairs investigation. Fewer than 20 percent of review boards nationwide are set up that way, said Pierce Murphy, past president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
In other cities, boards can launch independent investigations, take complaints from residents and conduct audits of random internal affairs cases.
Some cities even grant civilian review boards the authority to subpoena evidence and require officers to attend mediations with residents.
The Charlotte board can advise the police chief and city manager if the board believes the disciplinary decisions by CMPD were serious mistakes.
Charlotte law school study
A study by the Charlotte School of Law concluded that Charlotte needs to change its review board’s structure to give citizens a better chance to win. Researchers plan to present the study findings to the City Council later this year.
Professor Jason Huber, who is leading the study, said the mayor’s request is a small step.
“The empirical evidence speaks for itself,” Huber said. “This deserves to be heard by the City Council as soon as possible.”
To make the civilian panel a true public watchdog, Huber said the council must give the board authority to conduct independent investigations, order more transparency and lower the burden of proof for a full hearing from preponderance of evidence to probable cause that an officer violated department policy.
In almost every case, the 11-member board has met privately – first with citizens, then with police – and voted to dismiss the complaint without holding a formal hearing.
“The structure of the Citizens Review Board essentially renders it ineffective,” Huber said. “It would take a dramatic overhaul to transform it.”