GLAA testifies on Civilian Complaint Review Board


D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary
FEBRUARY 24, 1998

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

Good afternoon. My name is Rick Rosendall. I am President of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation’s oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization. Craig Howell, our current Secretary and a longtime GLAA member, is with me today.

It is extremely gratifying that both pieces of legislation under consideration today — Bill 12-360, the “Police Conduct Review Board Act of 1997,” and Bill 12-521, the “Citizen Complaint Review Act of 1998” — are well-crafted bills that thoughtfully address a major public safety concern. (I would point out that Ms. Allen's bill is substantially the one that GLAA endorsed in the previous Council session.) Passage of either bill would represent a giant step forward compared with the weaknesses encountered under the old Civilian Complaint Review Board. Either bill would represent a marked improvement in light of the total absence for the past 3 years of any system of citizen review of allegations of police misconduct. We want to thank you, Mr. Evans, and Councilmember Allen for your efforts. I think we're much closer today to something all of us can support.

Our comments today will focus on Bill 12-521, which we believe has the better chance for both enactment and effective implementation.

First, we would associate ourselves with the testimony of Mark Thompson and with the very thorough section-by-section analysis by the ACLU, both of whom are our partners in the NAACP Task Force.

We are very pleased that the system to be established under Bill 12-521 would allow quicker resolution of most complaints by the public of police misconduct. One of the gravest weaknesses of the old CCRB was the requirement to investigate each and every complaint. This unrealistic and unnecessary requirement was among the chief causes of the enormous case backlog that plagued the old Board. Under Bill 12-521, the Executive Director of the Office of Citizen Complaint Review would be empowered to dismiss a complaint outright with the concurrence of at least 2 members of the Citizen Complaint Review Board. (Parenthetically, we are sympathetic to the suggestion that to minimize the chances for a backlog to develop, the Executive Director ought to be empowered to dismiss complaints without waiting for the concurrence of any Board members.) Even better, complaints would be routinely subject to mediation, which ought to produce speedy resolution more often than not.

As a result, investigative resources could be concentrated on the most troublesome cases, rather than dispersed among all complaints, as was the case with the old Board.

We are also pleased that investigations under the new system would be enhanced by effective subpoena powers. The absence of such powers was a serious stumbling block under the old system, where the police or other parties were often able to stonewall because the law did not grant the Board’s investigators proper authority.

But even the system envisioned under Bill 12-521 will not work properly if adequate funding is not forthcoming. Painfully, we must remind you of the vicious circle we’ve been countering for the last several years. Bill Lightfoot, former chairman of this committee, refused to allow passage of legislation establishing a new system of civilian review in 1996 because the Council had not authorized any budget for a new Board. Then last year, the Council refused to grant a budget earmarked for a new Board because no law setting up such a body had been passed. So which comes first: the budget or the law?

In this respect, we note the following language in Bill 12-360: “The appropriation of such funds as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this act is hereby authorized.” No such provision appears in Bill 12-521; we are not sure that such language is required, but we do want to close any loopholes that might facilitate a continuation of that old vicious circle.

Since the FY 1999 budget is about to be submitted, we urge this committee to take steps to ensure a budget for the new system is either explicitly provided for or else implicitly allowed for, via re-programming. If anything can be done to authorize a budget for FY 1998, so we won’t have to wait until October 1 to get the new system in place, so much the better.

There are a number of other concerns or suggestions we would like to raise to improve Bill 12-521. Time limitations will limit what we can say today, but we expect to revise and extend our remarks before the record closes on March 13.

In short, it's a very good bill, and with a few small changes it will be even better.

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

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