The city is unlikely to adopt most police reforms requested by accountability activists, according to Raleigh’s city manager and city attorney’s office.
Raleigh’s Police Accountability Community Task Force is urging city leaders to make the police department more transparent through eight suggested changes that include an independent oversight board that could review controversial police actions and de-emphasizing enforcement of marijuana laws. The request comes in the wake of a controversial shooting in Southeast Raleigh in which an officer killed 24-year-old Akiel Denkins, who was wanted for failing to appear in court on a felony drug charge.
The city responded to PACT on Wednesday night, saying that existing rules already address or legally prohibit the city from adopting many of the group’s requests.
PACT, in a statement released Thursday morning, said Raleigh’s responses fell short.
“We appreciate the opportunity to work collaboratively in these first steps toward creating accountability, equity and transparency in Raleigh policing. We take this as a recognition of the fact that there is a problem. ” said Geraldine Alshamy, a PACT member. “But building stronger community relations requires more than dialogue.”
Here’s a breakdown of the police reforms PACT is seeking from the city.
A police review panel
PACT members have said an independent panel is needed to review complaints against police because officers can’t be trusted to be fair and objective when investigating complaints about their peers.
“The simple fact is the city’s existing systems for documenting civilian complaints aren’t enough: Raleigh needs a community oversight board,” said PACT member Terrence Perry. “Without this oversight tool we are not addressing the problem in its entirety; the police are still policing themselves.”
But the city on Wednesday reaffirmed its support for the current system.
“The Raleigh Police Department has long had an Internal Affairs Unit that promptly and thoroughly investigates allegations of police misconduct,” the city wrote in its response. “Oversight of the Internal Affairs Unit is directly handled by the Major of the Professional Standards Division, Deputy Chief of Police, and the Chief of Police. This comprehensive system has worked to ensure officer accountability and police integrity for many years.”
The city says it can’t grant investigative and subpoena power to an oversight board unless the N.C. General Assembly gives municipalities the power to do so. PACT asked the city to join its effort to lobby the legislature, but city leaders declined when the groups met Wednesday night, said PACT leader Akiba Byrd.
Less ‘biased’ policing
PACT asked Raleigh to strengthen the city’s anti-bias policing policy by regularly reviewing officers’ stop-and-search data. The city said its officers are already prohibited from considering race, national or ethnic origin, or other identifiable group descriptors in establishing either reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
“All RPD supervisors were recently required to attend a two-day Franklin Covey workshop on diversity-centered leadership that was provided by the Carolinas Institute for Community Policing and supported by the U.S. Department of Justice,” the city wrote. “In 2014, all departmental personnel were mandated to attend cultural awareness training that was taught by a member of the Sikh community in conjunction with the RPD Training Staff.”
Fewer marijuana charges
PACT asked Raleigh to de-prioritize marijuana enforcement, but city leaders said they can’t legally do so.
“Quite frankly, it is not appropriate for a law enforcement agency or individual law enforcement personnel to make decisions about which laws will be enforced and when,” the city wrote. “It should be noted that charges in the vast majority of cases involving simple possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, are most often handled via the issuance of a citation rather than a physical arrest.”
Written search consent
The one PACT request the city seems open to adopting is for a policy change requiring police officers to obtain written consent forms before performing a search. City policy says officers should have the consenting person sign a form “whenever possible,” but allows the officers to document a person’s written consent.
“The RPD is currently in the process of reviewing and evaluating the aforementioned policy. The use of body worn cameras will also factor heavily into the discussion on consent searches in the near future,” the city wrote.
Thoughtful body-cam policies
Raleigh also said it’s developing a body-worn camera program that protects people’s rights and privacy, as PACT requested. The City Council recently approved funding to launch a body-camera program for police officers.
PACT asked Raleigh to expand crisis intervention training. The city claimed to be a statewide leader in such training, saying it provides recruits 1,100 hours of CIT – about 500 hours more than the N.C. Education and Training Standards Commission requires.
“The Raleigh Police Department also provides instructors, including those who teach de-escalation techniques and suicide assessment,” the city wrote. “The Raleigh Police Department’s strong commitment to the CIT program is evidenced by the fact that a total of 242 officers have completed the training.
“Also, the department recently had 12 officers trained in the newly developed Veterans in Crisis Program, which includes an additional 16 hours of instruction focus on addressing the specific needs of veterans and the unique challenges inherent in serving them.”
More racial diversity
PACT asked Raleigh to implement an internship program designed to recruit and retain officers of color. The city pointed to a program it’s had for years, saying it has 14 interns currently assigned to the department.
“Universities that have participated in our internship program include Shaw University, NC Central University, and Saint Augustine’s College. Upon successful completion of the program, these students are actively recruited to join the police department,” the city wrote.
Diverse patrol schedules
The group also asked Raleigh to require its officers to engage in both night and daytime patrols, something the city said it already requires.
“RPD Field Operations officers currently rotate schedules. As such, they spend an equal amount of time on day and nighttime patrol,” the city wrote.
Byrd said he wasn’t surprised by the city’s responses but was disappointed administrators repeatedly referred to existing policies as if they view them as sufficient. He hopes this is the first of many conversations about police accountability.
“They’re all still agents of a broken system,” Byrd said. “They’re only going to be able to move so far at a time.
“By continuing this dialogue, which I do appreciate, it’s going to make it harder for them over time to continue to deny the issues,” he said. “Nothing we’re asking for is going to deter them from doing their jobs, it’s going to help them better do their jobs.”
Ruffin Hall, the city manager, expressed similar interest in further dialogue.
“As you know, growing population pressures, such as urbanization and increased density, amplify the demand for establishing safe neighborhoods in the City of Raleigh,” Hall wrote. “This is a task and charge that we take very seriously. We are interested in having a collaborative conversation on how we might move forward together.”
Specht: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @AndySpecht