The Charlotte City Council is advancing a plan to give more power to the Citizens Review Board charged with hearing complaints of police misconduct.
It was an investigation by the Charlotte Observer and Charlotte School of Law earlier this year that propelled the city council to look more closely at the police department's Citizens Review Board. That investigation revealed the board had never in its 15-year history ruled against the police department in a case of alleged officer misconduct.
"Among the reasons why – and I'm only speaking from four years' experience – is the threshold had always been so high that it was almost impossible for a citizen to get to a hearing," says Alan Adler, a current member of the Citizens Review Board and the task force that's recommending changes to the process.
A committee of the city council has now adopted those recommendations unanimously. They include lowering the legal threshold required for the review board to conduct a full evidentiary hearing and giving the board the ability to cross-examine witnesses – including the officer involved in the case.
To this point, the Citizens Review Board hasn't even had access to CMPD's own investigation into officer misconduct complaints. City Manager Ron Carlee says that will change if the city council approves the recommendations, which he supports. But Carlee does not expect the Citizens Review Board to suddenly start ruling against the police department
"I expect Internal Affairs to get it right and take the actions that needed to be taken against officers that are engaged in misconduct, because they reflect poorly on all the other officers out there doing the job the right way day in and day out," says Carlee.
When citizens believe they have been mistreated by a police officer, CMPD first investigates internally and the chief decides if the officer should be disciplined. Citizens can appeal the chief's decision to the Citizens Review Board, which is now poised to have more tools at its disposal.
Carlee says that's the piece that has been missing: "These recommendations are made to change the process so it is more understandable and so that the citizen's review board has the flexibility they need to get at the bottom of a case. Because, while I don't expect mistakes to be made, they can be, and this becomes a vital mechanism to catch them."
And perhaps most importantly, says Carlee, it will help build trust with members of the public who have expressed doubt in CMPD's ability to police itself.