Eight months after Ann Arbor City Council approved a $200,000 review of the practices and policies of the city’s police department by the Chicago-based security firm Hillard Heintze LLC, many residents and City Councilmembers expected the review would result in the recommendation to create a citizen oversight board. The firm has released its comprehensive 105-page report on the department, which includes 67 recommendations. Chief among those is the recommendation to create what many residents see as a watered-down version of an oversight board –– what Hillard Heintze is calling a “Co-Produced Policing Committee”.
Unlike a civilian oversight board, the CPPC would not have the power to conduct its own investigations of complaints against the AAPD –– instead, it would review investigations conducted by the AAPD’s office of internal affairs and communicate with AAPD regarding such investigations on behalf of the community.
At a City Council work session on the report Thursday night, dozens of residents expressed their frustration and lack of faith in the effort put into the review. Since June, residents and City Councilmembers have been dissatisfied with the quality and amount of outreach to marginalized communities in Hillard Heintze’s community survey of perceptions of police practices.
Resident Shirley Beckley pointed out the more-than-20-year careers Debra Kirby and Kenneth Bouche –– the Hillard Heintze executives who managed the review –– had with the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police.
“You all are ex-cops. We ask that they don’t have ex-cops, so they pay attention to the community. So I don’t expect you to give us, the community, any kind of credence,” Beckley said. “And I hope our City Council has some kind of heart about them, and not use all your brain power, but some of your heart, to know that we need this citizens’ oversight committee.”
AAPD Chief Jim Baird criticized the idea of a civilian oversight board when it was proposed in 2016, saying it should not be done without a third-party audit. Bouche said civilian oversight boards generally became tools for residents to air grievances in ways he said were unproductive.
“Civilian oversight does not solve community relations issues and it does not bring to resolution critical issues within the police department. It takes issues that are one, two, three, sometimes five years old, puts them in front of civilian review, and they’re generally old enough to where the police department really doesn’t even have that much accountability for them anymore,” he said. “It becomes a mechanism for people who are sometimes disenchanted with police departments to become more disenchanted, because all they see is the problem.”
Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, pointed out that if investigations into complaints are conducted internally by the AAPD, as they are now, civilians have less incentive to come forward with complaints and less reason to believe those complaints will be handled fairly.
“If someone wants a place to go other than the police department to lodge a complaint, and they want somebody to respond and say, ‘This is what we found to be true,’ it’s more particular than you’re talking about,” he said. “I believe there’s great value in what you’re suggesting as far as looking forward and trying to affect policy and change behavior, but as far as gaining the trust of the community by answering the question, ‘Is that right? Was I treated fairly?’ Where would they go?”
Many residents are outraged with the lack of transparency of the internal reviews the police department conducts. After an AAPD officer shot and killed Black resident Aura Rosser in 2014 — which was later found to have acted in “lawful self defense” by the Washtenaw County prosecutor — residents claimed the department had shirked any accountability.
More recently, a 16-year-old Black Ann Arbor high school student was violently arrested while waiting at the Blake Transit Center bus station. Since then, residents have expressed anger at the lack of explanation for the arrest. Dwight Wilson, a member of the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission included in the work session, said he remained confused even after communicating with AAPD regarding the arrest.
“When we look at what happened at the bus station, I asked a question concerning the fight, because we were told it was a fight he was responding to. And I asked if they were using guns, knives, talking smack. It turned out it was two girls that were involved in the fight,” he said. “How does a boy find himself on his back, and how his he absolved from all responsibilities, because no charges were brought, and then we find that the officer was exonerated? There was not enough detail to explain that, and give people a feeling that, ‘OK, we can feel confident that everything was correct.'”
Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, agreed, saying an independent review body was necessary for the community, and the current system of internal review was a “black box.”
“It goes into the police system, they investigate and they’re going to give us a verdict,” she said. “What if a majority of the community members don’t feel that they have a clear understanding of what happened? How do you make that judgment without knowing everything surrounding that?”
Boucher said the purpose of the CPPC would not necessarily be to determine every detail of reported incidents but to facilitate discussion between the AAPD and the community on issues the community found unacceptable.
“The things you’re describing are certainly well within the community’s right to know. And one of the things that the report identified is that there needs to be more transparency and discipline within internal affairs,” he said. “There’s details that you don’t get to have, just because the law prevents you from having it.”
Following the arrest at the Blake Transit Center, claims that the arrested teen had been cited with trespassing have been denied. During the public comment portion of the work session, Kashatria Moore, the mother of the teen arrested at Blake Transit Center, claimed the AAPD was lying, and called the review “a waste of time and money.”
“Then the Ann Arbor police department states that he was never written a trespass. That’s a lie. The transit center states he was never written a trespass, that’s a lie. I have the documentation here with me. I just signed documentation on Tuesday for the trespass to be revoked,” she said. “You want to bridge a gap between the community and the police? Well, the police aren’t being honest. You spent $230,000 on this? This is a slap in the face! This is a debacle.”