City Council amends police review task force to allow for citizen autonomy
In response to opposition from Ann Arbor citizens regarding the formation of a police review board featuring Ann Arbor Police Department members, City Council passed an amended task force resolution Monday evening, allowing for increased autonomy for civilians in the formation of a task force to oversee the development of a police review board. The review board membership will be based on reccomendations by the City Administrator, as well as the Human Rights Commission.
In a previous Human Rights Commission meeting in January, members moved to develop a task force to allow citizens to provide input in the formation of a police review board in response to demands from Transforming Justice Washtenaw initiative for transparency.
More than 80 residents came out Monday to oppose a police review board with positions for not only AAPD members and councilmembers, but also lacking in the ability to access investigation information outside of public data. Several council members also disputed the initial resolution.
Reform movements began gaining steam after the fatal shooting of Black resident Aura Rosser by James Ried, a white AAPD officer. After repeated calls from citizens and the HRC for council to improve oversight over local police, the council approved a $200,000 review of policing practices conducted by Chicago consulting firm Hillard Heintze, LLC. The firm released a report calling for a a “co-produced policing committee,” and many residents considered the results unsatisfying, and even counteractive.
Ann Arbor resident Jennifer Haines expressed frustration with the structure of the review board as well as the task force, and shared ideals of transparency and accountability.
“Right now we have a trust situation that is broken,” Haines said. “Hillard Heintze left many feeling without a voice. Nothing can be done if people don’t feel comfortable coming forward. People are more frightened of the AAPD than the issues they’re facing.”
Not only did residents express discomfort with the proposed task force resolution, but many council members added in criticism of the seeming lack of trust between civilians and elected officials, perpetuated by provisions for elected officials to sit on the review board.
Before the amendments were implemented, Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, said she believed the resolution fails to express basic democratic principles.
“We cannot believe in democratic principles and have an institution that is not bound by checks and balances,” Kailasapathy said. “Who would want to do this? Do you want to be just a PR person for the police department? There are lots of good parts to this resolution but there are four or five holes in it that need to be changed otherwise it is just going to be a feel-good party that won’t really do anything.”
Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, shared Kailasapthy’s view. He said he believed the task force and the review board itself could be better and should not limit civilian participation.
“If we are going to have a citizen committee, it has to be led by citizens, not staff,” Eaton said. “I believe that we must form a task force. It should not include any city member as a part of the voting process. Nothing prohibits us from giving (the review board) more power than advised in the charter. We should give it the ability to act independently of the police.”
In the review of the resolution, Eaton initiated many changes, touching on every bullet point within the resolution. He called for independence for the task force and the board, investigative privileges and the exclusion of city employees.
With Eaton’s encouragement, the council amended the resolution to allow grounds for establishing a task force where council members and AAPD members are not allowed to vote, and a police review board to be staffed by individuals recommended by the City Administrator, as well as the Human Rights Commission.
Amid these recommendations, the council will also look to fill the board with a large representation of individuals from heavily policed areas, mental health workers, restorative justice workers and social workers. Finally, the council also passed an amendment to create procedures within the police review board to receive civilian complaints.
Many residents, including members of Transforming Justice Washtenaw, discussed their frustration with lack of transparency in the AAPD. Rackham student Sargeant Donovan-Smith said she has attended four council meetings and repeatedly asked for AAPD transparency and reiterated her frustration once more.
“I ask you again to listen to the residents and stop the bureaucratic nonsense,” Donovan-Smith said.
While the council agreed to pass the amendments and the resolution itself, there was discussion of allowing the task force, as well as the board, access to confidential data. Originally, only the public data regarding policing practices was to be made available for investigative purposes.
Despite the call for transparency, Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski, D-Ward 5, expressed concern regarding confidentiality.
“Moving towards a general level of transparency is important, but confidentiality is also important,” Warpehoski said. “We need to make sure we are honoring the confidentiality of people not convicted of crimes, that we are not endangering minors. If this moves forward it brings us back to the issue of confidentiality.”
Before the over two-hour long discussion on the task force resolution, City Council, as well as several members of the local school board, discussed school transportation difficulties. The council also passed a resolution authorizing the city to seek permission from the Michigan Supreme Court to file an amicus curiae brief in Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. v. Ann Arbor Public Schools.