Members of the city’s human relations commission agreed Thursday night to review a list of recommendations that a newly formed citizen’s coalition says will foster positive relationships between community members and the police.
The recommendations include body cameras by all officers, a greater emphasis on community policing, an internship program to recruit and retain officers of color, and the creation of a community oversight board that could “investigate, subpoena and discipline the police when there is injustice.”
The group also called for the return of officers walking a beat to get to know residents better and to reassure residents that they offer service not fear.
“I can assure you as chair, we will review this information,” said the human relations commission chairman Michael Leach.
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Members of the Police Accountability Community Task Force (PACT) made the recommendations less than two weeks after a Raleigh police officer fatally shot a 24-year-old man while trying to arrest him. Police say Akiel Denkins, 24, pulled a gun on Officer D.C. Twiddy during a struggle, while some witnesses said Twiddy shot Denkins in the back as he ran away.
The PACT coalition includes Raleigh community activists and non-profit organizations that say they are committed to human rights. The coalition members began meeting last year in April to address and support policies that call for accountability, equity and transparency in Raleigh policing. PACT members say they are working together “to end racial profiling, selective enforcement, excessive force and harassment by police.”
On the day of the shooting, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown was scheduled to present to the City Council recommendations for implementing the use of police body cameras. The presentation was canceled after the shooting.
PACT members want the human relations commission members to endorse the recommendations after their review is completed and to help present them to the City Council.
Akiba Byrd, coalition spokesman, said the group was formed in response to police-involved shootings of “black and brown people across the country.” He said they were assured by Deck-Brown at the time that she didn’t see police incidents in places like Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore as an issue in Raleigh, that it was “something that affected people in other places but not here.”
Byrd said city residents were told by the police chief that the department’s internal affairs unit’s handling of citizen complaints had been “adequate.”
Activists and other city residents saw it differently.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before it happened here,” Byrd said. “We tried to organize and get out in front of the issue to prevent it from happening here and we still weren’t prepared for what happened,” he said, referring to Denkins’ shooting.
Isaac Walton, who owns a barbershop in the largely African American South Park neighborhood where Denkins was shot, talked about “day-to-day experiences” in the community, where some of its members are harassed for walking in the street, subjected to undue vehicle searches, stopped for driving too slow and questioned for drinking and driving even if the person does not drink.
“Does that sound like the policing in your neighborhood?” Walton asked the commission members.
The coalition includes uCANcomplain, a non-profit that works with parents and educators to address school discipline issues of suspensions, expulsions, zero-tolerance and bullying. uCANcomplain founder Shirley Tang said black students are being targeted in public schools, where they are nearly twice as likely to be arrested than white students.
“I mourn for [Denkins],” Tang said. “But I can’t help but wonder, how come the people we pay for protecting us, end up hurting us instead? Laws are useless when those who control the law can act like they’re above the law.”
Human relations commission member Gail Clements McDonald asked if PACT members had looked at other civilian review boards across the country.
Byrd said the coalition had looked at panels in other cities and decided to base their recommendation on a board formed late last year in Newark, N.J., because it enables members to investigate, subpoena and discipline officers.
Another commission member, Candace Brown, asked if the PACT had reviewed the city’s current anti-bias policy.
“We need a new one,” Byrd responded. The existing policy, he said had “no teeth” and is “arbitrary and vague.”
“On average there are 39 [police complaints] a year,” he said. “Of those seven are sustained. We have no idea what happens to those officers because of the police union and we are told that it was a personnel action. So we have no idea what happened.”
A third commission member, Dave Parnell asked which cases a Raleigh police oversight board would review.
Byrd said that any case brought forward by city residents would be reviewed. The coalition spokesman noted that high-profile cases like the shooting of Akiel Denkins get widespread attention, but he said there is a “systematic pattern” of police harassment in some sections of the city.
“What we see everyday are people being harassed,” Byrd said. “After Akiel Denkins was shot, it was like the cops said, ‘let’s chill out.’” But now, Byrd said, “we see nine, fifteen, seventeen cop cars and brothers, stretched out on the curb. Kids. These are the things we need to address.”
* Create a community oversight board that has power to investigate, subpoena and discipline the police officers found to have committed wrong doing.
* Strengthen the department’s anti-bias policing policy with regular reviews of stop and search data.
* Improve officer training and expand crisis intervention training
* Require written consent-to-search forms.
* De-prioritizing marijuana enforcement
*Implement a body-worn camera program that protects the rights, privacy and access of community members.
* Implement an internship program to recruit and retain officers of color
* Increase opportunities for positive relationships between the community and police
SOURCE: Police Accountability Community Task Force