Armed with signs and a petition, residents and civil rights activists on Tuesday called on Raleigh leaders to adopt additional oversight for city police.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Police Accountability Community Task Force joined more than a dozen Raleigh residents at City Hall on Tuesday night, where they spoke about police abuses in front of television cameras before lobbying the City Council for a range of policy reforms.
Speakers said Raleigh police have unfairly targeted black residents for years but that the recent police shooting of a young man in Southeast Raleigh was the latest example of why authorities need to offer more transparency to help rebuild the community’s trust.
“There cannot be trust without transparency,” said Southeast Raleigh resident Kimberly Muktarian. “We, too, want to feel safe.”
Officer D.C. Twiddy shot and killed 24-year-old Akiel Denkins in Southeast Raleigh on Feb. 29. While police say Twiddy needed to defend himself during a physical confrontation, some residents claim that Twiddy shot Denkins from behind while Denkins was running away.
Advocates stood before city leaders with three requests Tuesday night, starting with Sarah Preston of the North Carolina ACLU.
Preston, the group’s acting executive director, offered several policy recommendations for operating body cameras and disclosing the recordings. The City Council last month approved a plan to buy and use body-worn cameras for 600 officers over the next three years but hasn’t developed policies for storing the footage or releasing it to the public.
The ACLU believes that:
- Officers should be barred from deciding when and where to begin, pause or stop recording.
- Police should only record when engaging with individuals, rather than continuously recording through shifts.
- People recorded by body cameras should be able to view and access those recordings upon request, and police should disclose recordings of public interest.
Geraldine Alshamy of PACT asked the City Council to reel in Raleigh police pursuits of marijuana and those who possess it. Police stop and search blacks at a higher rate than whites often under the false premise that they smell marijuana, Alshamy said.
“This kind of policing really damages the relationships between the community and the police,” she said, adding police “have better things to do.”
Muktarian and Alshamy also submitted a petition with signatures of more than 1,200 residents asking for the city to create an independent police oversight board.
People who engage with police can file complaints about their experience to the city. But doing so sometimes prompts Raleigh police to target the complainers, said resident Akiba Byrd.
“There’s no confidence in that system,” he said. “We need to combat biased policing and hold officers accountable when they violate their pledge to protect and serve.”
The independent board should have the power to subpoena police officers and documents when investigating police actions, Byrd said.
After advocates spoke, city attorney Tom McCormick advised the City Council that it doesn’t have the authority to prohibit police from enforcing marijuana laws. However, he said, the law enforcement community is slowly changing its strategy for enforcing such crimes and chief Cassandra Deck-Brown is open to change.
“I think there will ultimately be progress in that area,” McCormick said.
The council also lacks the authority to give subpoena power to an independent board, he said. Only the state government can do that, he said.
Raleigh could create an advisory council to deal with police complaints. But, if City Council members want more police oversight, they’re better off reviewing complaints themselves or delegating that role to the offices of the city attorney or city manager, McCormick said.
Councilman Corey Branch, who represents Southeast Raleigh, said he’s interested in re-examining the system for reviewing complaints against police. Ruffin Hall, the city manager, said he would report back to Branch and transparency advocates about their concerns.
The Southeast Raleigh community will be waiting anxiously to hear city leaders’ proposals for ensuring police accountability, Byrd said.
“This is not going to go away,” he said. “We’re not going to take a simple pat on the back and a head nod to say that this has been addressed.”
Andy Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht