Commission debates police oversight board

Paul Sherman/Daily
Dwight Wilson, a member of the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission, discusses a potential civilian oversight board for the city’s police force at City Hall Wednesday. Buy this photo

By Anastassios Adamopoulos, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 11, 2015

The Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission convened Wednesday evening at City Hall to discuss the possibility of establishing a civilian oversight board for the city’s police force.

Seven citizens attended the meeting in total, with several expressing discontent both about the November death of Aura Rosser, who was shot by an Ann Arbor police officer, and a prosecutor’s determinationlast month that the shooting was justified self-defense.

Dwight Wilson, a member of the HRC, said he has met with representatives from four community groups who expressed their concern about the circumstances surrounding Rosser’s death, as well as more general concerns about law enforcement in Ann Arbor. The groups included Ann Arbor to Ferguson, Ann Arbor Concerned Citizens for Justice, the University’s Trotter Multicultural Center and Black Lives Matter.

An HRC subcommittee has been organized to examine the potential organization of a civilian oversight board for the police, City Council announced last month. The subcommittee members will present proposals and findings based on their research. More specific characteristics of the oversight board would be detailed during the process of its formation.

Pamela Dent, another member of the HRC, noted that the HRC would be able to establish the civilian oversight board because it is already in the charter’s commission, but it would still need to be approved by City Council. She stressed that the creation of the committee has not yet been agreed upon.

“We have a history of doing exhaustive research to support whatever we may ultimately recommend so that we don’t sustain any push back, if you will, and we are successful with what we ultimately determine,” Dent said.

Mohammad Issa, one of the oversight subcommittee members, said he has been in contact with other cities to find out how their own oversight boards work, including their role and limitations.

The commission has set Feb. 23 as a deadline for the subcommittee to submit proposals on the potential oversight board. The subcommittee will meet again on Feb. 25.

Along with the proposed oversight board, Wilson said he and fellow HRC member Linda Winkler have met with Ann Arbor Police Chief John Seto and discussed the training received by officers, as well as racial composition for the police force according to rank and in proportion to population breakdown.

Wilson said Seto is aware of the negative perceptions surrounding Ann Arbor police officers and wants to change that.

“He said that he is open to doing more things to make people understand that they are human beings,” he said. “And more fun things with the community.”

The report for the civilian police oversight subcommittee will include the information Seto gave the two members, Wilson said.

“We made it clear that this is more than Aura’s death,” Wilson said. “Right now we’re talking about prevention because a life has been lost. And it shall not, cannot come back. And that where we are in our society, is that police officers supposedly are employees.”