Public says Durham Civilian Police Review Board needs more power

jalexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2014 

— Critics of the Durham Police Department say the department should have more oversight.

At a meeting at City Hall, some argued that the Civilian Police Review Board should be able to do more than just investigate whether the department followed the correct procedures in investigating complaint against its officers.

“Consider revising the procedures,” Ian Mance, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told the board.

Attorney David Hall agreed.

“Your name alone implies that the board can hold the department accountable for the mistakes they make,” Hall said. “Advocate for more power for yourselves outside of the ability to just investigate the investigation.”

The purpose of Wednesday night’s meeting was to gather public recommendations on how the board could improve its service to the public.

The board’s scope is limited to the actions of the department; it cannot independently examine the events that led to the original complaint.

The board does not have subpoena authority, nor the ability to discipline police officers.

If the board decides, based on written evidence, that a citizen’s complaint about the handling of a case or actions of an officer might be valid, it can hold its own hearing. If the board concludes that the police investigation was improper, its only recourse is to inform the city manager, who decides any further action.

Few hearings have been granted in recent few years, fueling criticism the board lacks teeth.

Since 2003, the board has received 31 appeals but granted only two hearings, according to Karmisha Wallace, special assistant to City Manager Tom Bonfield.

Disappointment expressed

Board Chairman DeWarren Langley said citizens should know when they have a concern that there are adequate controls in place to make sure officers are following the rules.

“Law enforcement is inefficient if it does not have confidence from the public,” he said.

At least one citizen disagreed with the general sentiment of the meeting.

Mike Shifflet said there is value in the Civilian Police Review Board being an advisory body. He suggested that the board make no changes and that the Police Department keep its investigations private.

The board’s nine members are appointed by the city manager. One seat is currently vacant, and three of the eight members did not attend Wednesday night’s meeting. No police representatives attended the meeting.

Recommendations for the Durham Civilian Police Review Board can be made to Langley at politicallyactive@gmail.com or by calling 919-423-8089.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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