GLAA calls for independent civilian police review

TESTIMONY ON
CITIZEN'S COMPLAINT REVIEW ACT OF 1997
BILL 12-358

Presented by the
GAY & LESBIAN ACTIVISTS ALLIANCE OF WASHINGTON

COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY

September 19, 1997

Chairman Evans, Members of the Committee, and Fellow Citizens:

My name is Rick Rosendall. I am President of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA). With me is GLAA Secretary Craig Howell. Thank you for this opportunity to present our views on establishing an effective citizen complaint review process for our Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for bringing attention to this issue as you promised to do.

We have become increasingly frustrated over the last few years with the Council's irresponsible behavior regarding the citizen complaint review process:

We much prefer, at least as a starting point, the approach endorsed by the Police Chief's Citizen's Advisory Council (CAC) and the Metropolitan Police and Criminal Justice Review Task Force of the DC Branch of NAACP. This approach reflects many of the ideas embodied in the bill considered by the Council in the previous session (now reintroduced by Councilmember Allen) that built on the lessons learned from experience with the civilian complaint review process both here and elsewhere. This community-based approach has already garnered considerable support from groups that have worked in this field. GLAA also endorses this approach, as we have in the past. We feel that the proper way to proceed is for this committee to conduct full public hearings, with ample public notice, on all of the legislative alternatives, with the goal of crafting the strongest independent civilian review process possible — one that will best serve the public and inspire their confidence.

We feel compelled to censure the slovenly process employed by our purported saviors at Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Everything they did, from start to finish, was done in secret. Even after their report was written this past May, their findings and recommendations were not released to the public until just last month. This exemplifies the elitist, counter-democratic mind set of what our colleague Sam Smith calls the "Consultocracy."

We were told at our meeting last month with you and Chief Soulsby (for which we thank you) that the so-called MOU Partners could impose the Booz-Allen plan by fiat, without any legislative action by the Council. The now-aborted strategy of ramming their plan through the Council on an accelerated schedule provided the merest pretense of deliberation and public scrutiny. If the Booz-Allen system is to be shoved down our throats by the Police Chief or the MOU Partners, let it be unambiguously clear that it is being done with complete disregard for the principles of representative democracy.

A crucial clue to the assumptions underlying Booz-Allen's recommendations could be found in its list of the "stakeholders" who would have to sign off in approval for any system of civilian review to work. The stakeholders include the U.S. Attorney, the Chief of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Chief Judge, the Council — but not the general public! Well, here we are, asserting our stake.

The requirement for the police department's and the police union's acquiescence before any new system can be implemented is one that ought to raise more than a few eyebrows. Police at all levels have traditionally resisted any sort of civilian oversight with a blind and irrational passion; indeed, the department's and union's persistent efforts to sabotage the old CCRB played a major role in its problems and eventual downfall. Giving department managers and union leaders a veto power in any new system would reward their past obstructionism and drastically curtail the confidence that the public can put into whatever new system emerges.

Booz-Allen says their system would cost only $800 per complaint (vs. $2272 per case expended by the MPD currently and $1622 per case that they project would be required by a Community Review Board) and would allow complaints to be processed (from complaint intake to notification) in less than 20 working days (vs. more than 60 days currently required by the MPD and a whopping 365 to 550 days for a Community Review Board). It is not at all clear how Booz-Allen derived these time and cost estimates; it would be interesting to see their assumptions spelled out, so that we could evaluate their validity for ourselves. (At least it's nice that Booz-Allen sees the MPD's internal processing of complaints as more expensive than a Community Review Board.)

The Booz-Allen system calls on retired judges to provide external review of citizen complaints of police misconduct. While these judges may enjoy the confidence of the police — we note that Ron Robertson, head of the FOP's labor committee and a notorious opponent of civilian review, says "We're not afraid of [the Booz-Allen system]" — by the same token they would be hard pressed to convince the broader public of their objectivity. Judges naturally come to know the members of the police force only too well during their careers; since potential jurors who know any of the parties in a criminal or civil case are routinely excused from duty, we believe the same principle should be applied here.

As reported in this week's Legal Times, our position is supported by Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who is the author of the Citizen Review Resource Manual, a reference guide to civilian review policies around the country. He says that a review board should be "entirely separate" from the courts. "Otherwise," as Legal Times puts it, "there could be conflicts when members of the MPD appear before the court-sponsored review office, then testify as witnesses before the same judges in unrelated cases." We have attached a couple of articles by Professor Walker to our testimony; we call your attention in particular to his discussion of quality control procedures.

Speaking of the FOP's Ron Robertson, he is quoted in the same issue of Legal Times as saying, "I just want safeguards so that if a drug dealer comes in and lies..., he goes to jail." While we support penalties for perjury, we take issue with Robertson's implicit suggestion that the scenario he paints would be the rule rather than the exception. And we are not simply reading bias into his remarks. We have attached to our testimony some notes taken by our colleague Robert Hodgson at a meeting in the Jewish Community Center on March 6 at which Robertson spoke. In addition to various bigoted and insulting comments, Robertson said, "only criminals know how to use the CCRB — they even bring their lawyers. Honest citizens don't go to CCRB. Under federalization, you can go to the Civil Rights Division at Justice — just like 'they' did after the first Rodney King trial in Simi Valley." Robertson also said, "We will die at the altar of home rule," and said that the Control Board "can only fix the problem if they stay forever." His respect for due process is exemplified by his statement, "I can't lose the battle. I have to win at any cost." This kind of attitude is exactly why we need independent civilian review.

In conclusion, we wish to stress that we have been strong public advocates of reform. Far from merely complaining about Congress, we have called our own public officials to account for the District's self-inflicted wounds, and echoed Congresswoman Norton's statement, "If you want home rule, then rule!" We have attached our editorial from last week's issue of The Washington Blade. We have not come here as mere critics without a proposal of our own. But any reform, if it is to win the public trust that it needs in order to succeed, must respect the democratic process. This roundtable, we repeat, is no substitute for full public hearings on all of the legislative alternatives. There is no need for ill-considered haste by the Council on this issue. Let's work out the problems in a thoughtful, open, and orderly way to ensure the best prospects for a democratic and effective system of citizen complaint review.

Thank you. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have.

# # # # #

[from Councilmember Jack Evans' response to GLAA's 1996 Council candidate questionnaire]

GLAA's Question: Will you support legislation that will establish an effective civilian complaint review system for our Metropolitan Police Department?

Councilmember Evans' answer: "Yes. I believe that the Civilian Complaint Review Board is a vital mechanism for reviewing complaints of police abuse. The previous system however, was ineffective because of inadequate budget and staffing resources. I supported the recent legislation which puts teeth back into the CCRB. I strongly support the non-inclusion of Police officials on this board which would, I believe, hinder any effective enforcement."

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