GLAA writes Evans on Civilian Complaint Review legislation

GLAA writes Evans on Civilian Complaint Review lesislation

March 11, 1998

The Honorable Jack Evans
Chair, Committee on the Judiciary
Council of the District of Columbia
441 4th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Jack:

We are writing to submit our additional comments to supplement our February 24 testimony on Bills 12-360 and 12-521, regarding the reestablishment of a civilian complaint review system for the Metropolitan Police Department.

At the earlier hearing, there was considerable discussion over a provision of Section 5 (a) in Mrs. Allen’s bill (12-360) to authorize the new complaint review board to hear complaints alleging “discriminatory treatment based upon a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, physical handicap, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business.”

Whether favoring or opposing this provision, most of the comments during the hearing, including our own, implicitly assumed that such complaints are currently being handled by the Office of Human Rights. However, we have since spoken with both Mr. Gerald Draper, Director of the Department of Human Rights and Local Business Development, and Ms. Winona Lake, the Acting Chief of the Office of Human Rights. They have informed us that OHR does not in fact hear such complaints because they feel they lack proper legal authorization to do so, but instead routinely refers persons with such allegations to the Metropolitan Police Department.

While there may be some circumstances wherein OHR could handle complaints filed against the MPD itself rather than against individual officers, potential complainants would not be confident that OHR will accept jurisdiction in any given incident. Without incorporating the language of Mrs. Allen’s bill into whatever legislation emerges from your committee, you would be leaving a vacuum allowing the MPD sole effective review powers over complaints of bias-motivated abuse. Accordingly, we strongly urge you to grant the new citizen complaint board the power to take such cases.

The board should also be explicitly empowered to hear complaints of police retaliation against people who file complaints with the board. Section 10 (d) of Bill 12-521 does provide that “An employee of the Metropolitan Police Department shall not retaliate, directly or indirectly, against a person who files a complaint under this act. If a complaint of retaliation is sustained under this act, the subject police officer or employee shall be subject to appropriate penalty, including dismissal.” However, the bill does not explicitly authorize the new board to handle such allegations of retaliation; this oversight should be corrected.

We would suggest that the new board should be authorized “to conduct research and studies regarding police-community relations and regarding the causes, nature, extent, and prevention of police misconduct,” as provided in Mrs. Allen’s bill but not spelled out in your bill.

Section 15 (b) of Mrs. Allen’s bill provides that: “Any willful false swearing as to a material fact, on the part of any party or witness in a matter under this act, either by a signed statement under oath or in oral testimony, shall be deemed to be perjury and shall be punished in the manner prescribed by law for such offense. The Board may refer any case of suspected perjury to the United States Attorney for possible criminal prosecution.” We believe such language (which is absent from Bill 12-521) should be included in the final version of whatever legislation emerges from the Judiciary Committee. We repeat our testimony’s recommendation that perjury penalties should not be threatened against anyone making an initial complaint.

We agree with those witnesses at the earlier hearing who warned that Section 13 (f) of Bill 12-521, as presently worded, might prove to be a Trojan Horse. This section states that “A police officer disciplined by the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, whether by termination or otherwise, shall be entitled to whatever administrative disciplinary proceeding is afforded under any applicable collective bargaining agreement.” This language might vitiate the entire purpose of the new civilian complaint review system and should be dropped.

We agree with witnesses who suggested that active-duty police officers should not be allowed to serve as investigators for the new complaint review board.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Rosendall
President
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington

cc: The Honorable Sandy Allen
The Honorable Harold Brazil
The Honorable Harry Thomas, Sr.
The Honorable Hilda Mason
The Honorable Kevin Chavous

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