Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown does not think a citizen-led board should be able to discipline local police officers.
Citizens and activist groups, including Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce, have for years asked for additional police oversight after fatal shootings and other incidents.
Raleigh leaders asked staff what, if anything, the city could do. City staff members gave a report at a meeting Tuesday where Deck-Brown expressed her concern.
“The citizens review board won’t be the be-all, end-all,” she said.
“Part of that is simply because police, like all of you and everyone else here, we are human,” she said. “I must ask when does performance become so restricted that officers can simply not do their jobs? They are the ones running toward danger at the risk of their own lives.”
The chief had been criticized by some, including the Raleigh Police Protective Association, for remaining silent when officers have been criticized.
That group sent a letter to the City Council in September about an oversight board., which it shared on social media this past week.
“We respect all citizen’s rights to petition their government, however we would hope that you all would not equate this particular group’s passion or outrage for righteousness,” the letter said. “We have witnessed over the course of several years based on the rhetoric of these groups, that many members of these groups are not interested in justice, but rather seeking revenge for perceived past injustices.”
During her address to the council Tuesday, Deck-Brown said the conversation has to move past oversight boards, traffic stop data, body cameras and other perceived solutions to hold police accountable. The conversation has to be greater than “individual agendas,” she said.
Regardless of what the council does, Deck-Brown said the department will still strive for professionalism and transparency.
“We are a forward-moving and progressive police department,” she said. “And I believe it is important that you know and our citizens know, that whatever your choice we will continue to be the professionals we are called to be in this most dangerous and rigorous work that we do everyday.”
After the fatal shooting of Soheil Mojarrad by a Raleigh police officer last month, activists and friends disrupted a City Council meeting calling for justice and more accountability. Mojarrad was accused of stealing a phone and brandishing a knife.
Most of those same activists weren’t at Tuesday’s meeting, but the second row of the council chambers was filled with Raleigh police officers in uniform listening to Deck-Brown and the staff presentation.
“You can cut the tension with a knife in here right now,” council member Nicole Stewart said, adding that the focusing on citizen review boards has led to a “one-side versus the other” mentality.
The council needs to back up and ”think about the problem we are trying to solve,” she said.
“I think for the sake of this conversation our goals are no more deaths at the hands of police, police accountability, more transparency and improved community police relations,” Stewart said. “I think once we get our head around what our shared goals are we can dig into what are the solutions Instead of starting from a solution piece. And if we don’t agree on those goals then I don’t know how we are going to ever get to a solution.”
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Branch suggested publicly sharing the options and asking the entire community for its goal in the conversation.
Council member Dickie Thompson thanked the officers for their service and said he hadn’t heard many calls for oversight from people living in North Raleigh.
‘I am not sure who those groups are but I can tell you, from District A, I have not heard from any group asking for this,” he said. “So I am certainly open to looking at this, but we need to see where this focus is coming from.”
No one model
City staff members spent more than a year looking at police oversight and review boards across North Carolina and the country. Raleigh doesn’t currently have any type of police board.
“What we found is there is no one model that fits every community,” said Assistant City Manager Marchell David. “Community dynamics change depending on where you are geographically, depending on what your socioeconomic status is, depending on your population.”
The different types of boards include:
- Police Oversight Board: Investigates citizen complaints and internal affairs appeals. Has subpoena power with testimony taken under oath.
- Police Review Board: Reviews evidence of citizen complaints and internal affairs cases, and makes recommendations to the police chief or city manager. Often presents annually to the city council to report on trends. Mostly commonly seen in North Carolina.
- Office of Citizen Advocacy: This would be an internal city department within the Human Relations Department and not the Police Department. It would hear complaints or appeals by citizens and make recommendations to the city manager or police chief.
Some logistical challenges of an oversight board include needing to file a court petition to review officers’ body camera footage and the passage of a state law that would give the board subpoena power. There are no oversight boards in North Carolina though some communities have tried and failed to get a local bill passed, David said.
The pros of a board, according to the city’s presentation, are that it would respond to a community request for one and would give people an alternative to the Police Department’s internal affairs process. But the board could strain police and community relations and “case studies suggest that full review boards are ineffective overall,” the presentation said.
City staff members will bring a community-engagement plan to the council for its review.