The Ann Arbor Police Task Force met Wednesday night to continue documenting a plan for how the future official police review board would operate. Specifically, the task force discussed the powers and tools the future commission would need in order to perform its function of police oversight.
The group was created in early 2018 to draft a proposal for a police oversight commission, in response to the police brutality and misconduct exemplified by the 2014 police shooting of Aura Rosser. The task force comprises 11 Ann Arbor residents.
During the early minutes of the meeting, Task Force Co-Chair Lori Saginaw proposed a system for streamlining the night’s meeting. She suggested task force members look at the problems listed in the meeting documents, which were handed out to task force members and the other community members in the audience, and then identify problems they found important, share their viewpoints and offer their solutions.
“Essentially, this page identifies what I felt were the four issues that we needed to get everyone’s thoughts on,” Saginaw said. “As a task force, we can figure out which ones we agree on, and which ones we don’t, and work on those.”
This plan for the night was not adopted however, as members of the task force felt it was not presented early enough. Voting member Dwight Wilson commented he would be willing to work on the document and have it prepared for a future meeting. Voting member Anna Gersh seconded Wilson’s position. Based on these shared feelings within the task force, it was decided to allow members to work on the document and bring their completed thoughts to the next Police Task Force meeting.
The task force members then turned their attention to the night’s main topic: whether or not the power of subpoena should be included in the plan for the commission on police oversight. The power of subpoena would allow the future commission to request documents or information from the police department if they were not surrendered willfully.
Voting member Richard Sable was opposed to adding the power of a subpoena. Sable not only felt it might be difficult to have the power of subpoena granted by City Council, but also worried the process of subpoena and issuing court procedure would take too long. Sable felt a process of discussion, mitigation and ultimately arbitration would be sufficient for the police oversight commission needs.
“I think that given the way that we are starting, since everything about this is brand new, it is a better approach to doing all what we want to do — getting the commission the information they need,” Sable said.
Task Force Co-Chair Richard Friedman agreed with Sable’s points and showed his support of the arbitration approach.
“The subpoena does not enforce itself; it will need to be enforced in court,” Friedman said. “My sense is that the court would lean in favor of the police, and it would take a long time. Arbitration can be very quick, it would be much quicker than trying to enforce a subpoena.”
The power of subpoena, however, was supported by other members of the task force and community members in the audience. Non-voting member Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, expressed her support for the inclusion of subpoena in the toolkit of the commission.
“The education and the culture and soft things are sort of the carrot, there is a role to it,” Kailasapathy said. “But we need a stick too, and that is what the subpoena power is. It is another tool in the toolkit. We should not be scared to go to court.”
Voting member Dwight Wilson commented he was not worried about subpoena power taking a long time to obtain.
“It is clear in my mind that I want to have subpoena power in that toolkit,” Wilson said. “It amazes me to hear people talk about how time might be limited — we’ve been looking for justice since 1619. I am not worried about it taking a year or two.”
The concept of having subpoena power resonated with other task force members, who emphasized it would be used as a last resort and would give power and weight to the commission.
Ann Arbor resident Shirley Beckley expressed her support for subpoena power and reminded the task force this commission was established in response to the community’s efforts, and thus should reflect what the community wants.
“We can’t get what we need as citizens, so we have gotten to this point,” Beckley said. “It appears to me and other community people that we are going around in a circle. There is a woman that was killed three and a half years ago. The city does not want to talk about it. We have to talk about it. That is how this (task force) came together, because of the community. If the commission isn’t going to have any power, it is not going to be able to represent the people it is supposed to represent.”
In the end, members did not make a final decision on whether or not subpoena power would be included in the powers of the commission, and the issue was tabled for the next meeting. The task force also decided to make the standardized documents for proposing solutions to issues available for public response. No clear process for this was decided on in the meeting, but it was suggested that community members look to the task force’s Facebook page.
The next Ann Arbor Police Task Force meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 2, 7 p.m. at 2805 S. Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor.