Police Task Force discusses responsibilities of future Police Review Board
The Ann Arbor Police Task Force, a committee of 11 citizens, gathered at the CTN building Thursday night to continue working towards its goal of developing written framework for the implementation of an official police review board before late August.
City Council assembled the task force earlier this year, responding to incidents such as the 2014 shooting of Aura Rosser and the 2017 arrest of Ciaeem Slaton, both of which sparked allegations of police brutality on the part of the Ann Arbor Police Department.
Thursday’s meeting was dedicated to the review of the task force’s documentation. Specifically, Task Force members discussed two sets of proposed edits, one submitted by Task Force Co-Chair Richard Friedman and the other by Transforming Justice Washtenaw, a community of advocates against police brutality and racial discrimination.
The task force started by debating its written procedure for filing a complaint with the police review board. Voting member Dwight Wilson said the task force should mandate the existence of multiple sites where citizens can pick up complaint reports, noting some people might feel uncomfortable setting foot in City Hall to fill out the form.
Friedman touched on sections of the document pertaining to confidentiality, saying he felt confident his proposed edits clearly communicate the fact that a complaint brought before the review board does not need to be submitted to the police, if the complainant so chooses.
Voting member Richard Sable asked why a complainant would bother going through the review board if they wanted to submit their issue to the police. Friedman explained the complainant might see the review board as an ally dedicated to investigating their allegation against AAPD. Countering Friedman’s point, Wilson said the complainant may or may not consider the review board an ally; they might just be reaching out to as many organizations as possible in order to be heard.
“They may simply want to make sure that other people know,” Wilson said. “I do that all the time. If I want to make sure I’m going to get an answer, I will copy two or three people, just to put pressure on the person who may not answer me.”
Moving on to the language of the police complaint report, which is meant to be filled out by someone with an issue related to AAPD behavior, voting member Robin Stevens said the initial form should not ask for any personal details.
“In my opinion, we shouldn’t be asking for race, sex, ethnicity, any of that until the commission decides how are they going to handle that information,” Stevens said.
City Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, reminded the task force personal data could help the police review board identify patterns of discrimination.
“We need to be collecting enough information, not immigration status, but for example, whether it’s regarding who is being stopped on the road,” Kailasapathy said. “The data that comes from there is also going to help us to understand if there is systemic discrimination or systemic targeting of people.”
TJW member Maren Spolem agreed with Kailasapathy, but said the police review board needs to have a protocol in place for handling the personal information of complainants carefully and confidentially.
Spolem then mentioned one of her proposed edits to the task force’s documentation, saying TJW wants it to be clear the review board’s first step in handling a complaint will not be to reach out to the police. She said a person who has experienced trauma, like sexual misconduct, at the hands of the police might be hesitant to approach the review board otherwise.
Stevens said in cases of sexual assault, the committee would have to report the crime to the police. Spolem and the task force members agreed to revisit the subject.
Addressing TJW’s proposed edits in general, Task Force Co-Chair Lori Saginaw said the task force was not fully prepared to engage with Spolem; many of the members had not yet reviewed TJW’s suggestions, which were distributed Thursday morning. The group agreed to assemble a small, gender-balanced group of Task Force members to meet with TJW representatives and city employees at a later time.
Ann Arbor resident Shirley Beckley criticized Friedman, who discussed the proposed edits with Spolem last week, for not better preparing Task Force members for the meeting.
“I’m not suggesting he’s hiding anything,” Beckley said. “We don’t have time to go through all this because you all haven’t been able to really read it and digest. All I’m saying is he was aware of it last week.”
The task force transitioned to the topic of obtaining information from the police. They addressed a section of documentation which says AAPD has to release all information requested by the review board unless prevented by law, and the police must provide justification for the withholding of any material.
Voting member Richard Sable suggested the task force update its document to say instead of completely withholding material, AAPD should simply redact, or black out, confidential information. He said the review board could start by gathering information from the redacted document, then contest any redactions if necessary.
Towards the end of the meeting, participants discussed the police review board’s ability to question police officers. The task force’s current text describes the conditions under which the review board might want to question an officer and describes the officer’s rights.
City Councilmember Graydon Krapohl, D-Ward 4, noted questioning police officers could help the review board remain unbiased by obtaining information from all sides. Spolem said the power of the review board to obtain information from the police needs to be expanded in order to protect victims of harassment.
To close the meeting, Wilson reminded participants to set aside partisan differences and personal disagreements and to keep the overarching goal of the task force in mind.
“It’s my belief that wherever truth comes from, we need to accept it,” Wilson said. “The only reason we’re here, I believe, the only reason I’m here, is for community safety, that’s it.”
The next Police Task Force meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 25 at 2805 S. Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor.