City begins first steps to launch an independent audit of the Ann Arbor Police Department

Monday, September 5, 2016 - 4:50pm

Ten months after the city Human Rights Commission published a 42-page report calling for an independent audit of the Ann Arbor Police Department, the city manager’s office has started taking the initial steps toward meeting the HRC’s recommendations.

The report called for a review of department practices as well as the creation of a civilian-run police oversight board. It was created in wake of a community push for police oversight reform of the the 2014 shooting death of Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser, a Black woman, by an AAPD officer. 

Different recommendations will follow different timelines. In a memo released on Aug. 31, City Manager Howard Lazarus released a tentative plan for hiring a police auditor, who would conduct an audit of the AAPD’s internal review protocols and communicate the results.

Under Lazarus’s timetable, the request for contracting an auditor would be written with community input and released by the end of October. The auditor would be contracted by the end of December with City Council approval. Once hired, the auditor will evaluate AAPD community engagement processes through the end of June 2017, with a final report communicated by the end of July 2017 and a follow-up performed in February 2019. However, the other main recommendation — the oversight board — won't start being implemented until August 2017.

Lazarus said in an interview Friday that he chose to delay the implementation of an oversight board until after the completion of the audit to allow for sufficient public input and to ensure transparency. He added that all major stakeholder groups he has communicated with — the HRC, AAPD, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the local police union — have all responded favorably to his framework.

“I want to make sure there’s sufficient time for public discussion, and I want to not be guilty of over-promising and under-delivering,” Lazarus said. “This is an important effort, and I don’t want to rush through it. I don’t want either side to think we just went through the motions to get to a pre-determined outcome.”

Lazarus also emphasized that public discussions regarding the creation of a civilian review board — which would have the power to independently investigate complaints against the AAPD — will also not begin until August 2017, using the audit’s findings as a framework.

This decision comes after the HRC and AAPD Chief Jim Baird publicly disagreed during the summer on whether a civilian oversight board is necessary in Ann Arbor.

In a June memo to City Council, Baird expressed reservations that the push for increased police oversight in Ann Arbor was tied to national events as opposed to actual local problems. He suggested that concerns about a lack of transparency in how the AAPD investigates complaints against its officers are overblown. While not outright ruling out support for a civilian oversight board and the HRC’s other recommendations of the creation of crisis response teams, Baird urged that no further action be taken until after the completion of an audit.

Amid a renewed national outcry over police brutality in July, the HRC put out its own statement calling for the implementation of a review board to begin independently of the audit of the AAPD. The HRC also noted it was not directly criticizing the AAPD, but rather emphasized the goal of its recommendations is to build police-community trust.

In an email interview, HRC chair Leslie Stambaugh expressed support for the timeline outlined by Lazarus. Though she acknowledged some people may be concerned by the long timeframe before the creation of a review board, Stambaugh wrote she was confident this would allow for an effective implementation.

“At this point, any timeline might seem too long to some, but the one described here is realistic and promises to be both inclusive and effective,” Stambaugh wrote, also noting that her commission intends to be active through the entire process. 

“I think the fact that this process is designed to be inclusive early on should create a good foundation for implementation down the road and appreciate that the City Administrator made it his priority in the first two months of his administration.”