Controversy surrounds city staff and police seats on police review board
Based on several incidents of police brutality and concerns of transparency within the Ann Arbor police department, the Human Rights Commission is assembling a task force to draw a charter for a police review board. Though City Council, HRC and local community groups agree on the need for the commission, they disagree on whether City Council members, City staff and the deputy police chief should sit on the board.
The purpose of the police review board, currently referred to as the Co-Produced Policing Commission, is to train and educate the police and general public, review community complaints and police interactions, improve community policing outcomes and foster positive relationships between Ann Arbor residents and the police force. As a first step, HRC is forming a temporary task force made up of community members who will design a charter for the Council to vote on. The charter will include bylaws and a general framework for the community-based commission.
The HRC is accepting applications for the task force through Feb. 5 and the resolution will be voted on at the upcoming City Council meeting Monday.
HRC member Leslie Stambaugh emphasized the City’s work toward recruiting a diverse group of candidates for the task force.
“We put this out very broadly – we didn’t want to pre-judge,” Stambaugh said. “We know we wanted broad diversity in this group, we want broad perspectives and background in this group, but we did not say we wanted people who are knowledgeable about police, for example, and did not say we wanted any specific characteristics. But the people who are applying this have those characteristics – some of them are knowledgeable about police, some are social workers, people involved in education, some involved in police oversight. We have a really good group of people.”
Though a majority of the community agrees on the purpose of the board, disputes over who will serve on the commission divide the Council and some residents. Transforming Justice Washtenaw, a group that advocates for restorative alternatives to policing and incarceration, strongly opposes members of Council and the police from being included in the commission. Rather, members Lori Saginaw and Julie Quiroz believe the board should function independently as a Civilian Police Review Board — comprised of Ann Arbor community members — and involve the deputy police chief and assistant city attorney solely as advisers.
“We are emphasizing that it is crucially important that it be independent, be transparent, be representative and well-funded,” Quiroz said. “The key features are no City staff; the HRC selects the candidates from the original applicant pool, and we see representation on that task force of the HRC and of residents that are most impacted by policing.”
Saginaw highlighted the fact this independence would avoid the police from policing themselves. The CPRB would be able to review complaints and allow community members to have a say in investigations but would not take away from the responsibilities of the police force.
“We don’t want to babysit the police but we want to represent the community," Saginaw said. "The police are paid by the community, their salaries come from our tax dollars and the City’s budget and it’s not a radical idea to have oversight and it’s not about punishing the police or about taking away their independence or professionalism."
Members of TJW support the HRC’s 2014 commission proposal, which emphasized an independent, all-volunteer civilian police review board. However, Hillard Heintze LLC — the Chicago-based security firm HRC hired to review the Ann Arbor police force — released a report with conflicting recommendations to form a commission based on the data collected. The suggested board, CPPC, included members of City Council in addition to community members.
City Administrator Howard Lazarus intends to include members of the City staff and police on the commission, such as the city attorney and deputy police chief.
“I have to have support from the city attorney’s office because there are limits under the state law as to what we can do, and it’s important to be inclusive of the police department,” Lazarus said. “I view this task force as a collaborative process to get something before Council that’s reflective of the goals that Council has established.”
Though the City and community groups like TJW disagree on the City staff and police involvement on the board, Lazarus emphasized the community is looking for the same overall vision.
“I don’t think there’s much difference in intent or desire between the groups speaking forcefully at HRC meetings and what the council’s intent is, which is to have a group of citizens from diverse backgrounds and parts of the community evaluate the ways in which the Ann Arbor police department interacts with its residents,” Lazarus said. “I think what everyone desires in the end is having an exceptionally well trained tactical police department to also be on the leading edge of community policing in the engagement of all members of our community so that everyone feels safe.”
Councilmember Graydon Krapohl, D-Ward 4, a liaison to the HRC, highlighted the need for compromise from both sides to reach a conclusion.
“Nobody’s trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, our intention is to keep it transparent and open and that all parties involved listen and that everyone gives a little bit in order to move forward,” Krapohl said.
However, Stambaugh emphasized the need for distance between the board and the police force.
“I would like this group to interview the police and to get the information they need but not to have the police to be in the group,” Stambaugh said. “You don’t want (the police) constraining the discussion if you can help it…But you don’t want (the police) closed out.”
Saginaw supports the HRC’s initial proposal and agrees the board should be centralized on a resident-based perspective.
“As a resident, how would you feel and how freely do you think you could speak if the group you were a part of was dominated by those very powerful three individuals?” Saginaw asked. “It’s not going to create the most open exchange of ideas. So what we’re asking is for it to be community centered and that we’d be able to rely on those staff members for advice and support – it’s not that we don’t value their input, it’s just that we don’t think they should be on it and running it. And if they’re on it, it’s pretty hard for their voices to not carry a lot of weight.”
Stambaugh emphasized the need to include all parties involved but create a restriction on the voting rights of City staff and police members if they are placed on the board.
“I think you’re going to find that the police and the city administrator are not going to have any voting rights, this is where we are negotiating to how much the police and the city administrator will be a part of it,” Stambaugh said. “If you want buy-in, you have to include all of the people who are going to be affected by it, but you do want the community to design this and for it to be designed well enough that the Council votes on it. We would like it to be community generated.”
Overall, Krapohl focused on the board’s purpose to build trust between the police force and the community of Ann Arbor in order for residents to be treated equally in investigations.
“I think that’s the most important thing to come out of this – to develop greater trust. Any person that has an interaction with the police or law enforcement be treated fairly and like everyone else,” Krapohl said. “Forming this commission is one of the most important things this Council will do over the next few years because I think it’s important that all of our residents feel they have an equal say and are treated fairly and equally across the board.”