The Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission’s Subcommittee on Civilian Police Oversight continued deliberations Wednesday evening about the proposed creation of an oversight board for the city’s police force.

Subcommittee Chair Dwight Wilson, a HRC member, led the meeting, focusing on questions about the Ann Arbor community at large, the operations of the police department and how a civilian police oversight committee would function if established.

Over the past few months, the…
>subcommittee conducted research on police oversight organizations across the nation to better understand their logistical difficulties and effectiveness.

The committee was started in response to broad community concerns about the role of police in the Ann Arbor community.

One of the experts who has provided advice to the committee is Barbara Attard, an oversight and police practices consultant recommended to the board by the ACLU.

In a written statement from Attard shared with the subcommittee Wednesday, she highlighted the dynamic nature of police oversight committees.

“Oversight is not a static process and should evolve over time to incorporate effective practices learned from others, and to be continually responsive to changing community needs,” Attard wrote. “In order to succeed, the oversight body must be independent from special interest groups, police … and government officials. The community, as well as the police officers under oversight scrutiny, must trust that the oversight agency and its leadership are fair and unbiased.”

The subcommittee has also spoken with Richard Jerome, the deputy police monitor of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program. Wilson said Jerome indicated that all police oversight committees prompt opposition from police unions until the committee proves to be fair and competent.

Jerome also said that on the other end of the spectrum, oversight committees are often criticized by police activists who doubt the effectiveness and impact of the committee’s efforts. The best way to counter this is via community outreach, and surveys or publications assessing the committee’s work, he said.

The fatal…
>shooting of Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser by police last November sparked discourse in the community about the use of force by law enforcement. In relation specifically to that incident, the subcommittee also discussed suggestions of embedding mental health workers within the police department.

In the agenda presented to the subcommittee, Wilson highlighted Washtenaw County’s Project Outreach Team, a program that aids police in dealing with mentally ill residents, as an already existing resource.

“PORT has a 24-hour crisis intervention line, which comes in handy because the chief of police says the majority of people with whom they come in contact have mental challenges,” he wrote.

Subcommittee members who were present included fourth-year Medical student Mohamad Issa, Law student Nick Kabat and Human Rights Commissioner Pamela Dent.

The subcommittee also discussed financial concerns, specifically whether an oversight committee could be successful without budgetary support from the city. Ann Arbor is currently in the process of setting its budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

All participants agreed that without a budget, a committee would be unable to operate meaningfully.

“If you’re actually looking for something that is going to do what we want it to do, and actually be sustainable, and actually fulfill its goals, it needs to have a budget,” Issa said. “Can we imagine having to take on even a couple of complaints a month as volunteers? We couldn’t do that, it’s just impossible.”

The next step for the subcommittee is to compile a final proposal presenting its findings to the Human Rights Committee and the city.

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