Q. I"m beginning to hear more about this Police Review Board - What"s Up?
Part II of II Parts
Last week we began to talk about a Citizen Review Board. (CRB) We loosely defined it as a citizen board that investigates allegations of police misconduct. I mentioned that I had taken the time to go to the recent public meeting regarding citizen interest in such a board. The meeting was well attended with most seats in old City Hall filled, numerous citizens in the "Standing Room Only" section in the back and several Key West City Commissioners present.
As I mentioned at the end of the last article, the speakers in favor of a citizen review board were significantly more numerous than those opposed to one. It may have been someone as significant as Thomas Jefferson who said something to the effect of " Let us freely hear both sides . . ." In that spirit, let's open the discussion of what seem to be the areas of opposition to citizen's review board.
This article is not intended to be a definitive work on the objections but only an overview to stimulate discussion and public input.
"Civilian review is not needed because there are changes already underway and the bad apples or issues are being addressed." It is certainly true that the spotlight is on the police department, its Chief of Police and therefore its individual officers. Whether that has caused beneficial changes in the operation of the Department appears to be an open question.
Similarly, it seems true that a number of officers have been taken to task by the State Attorney's office as reported in this paper and other news media. While it may be good that the State Attorney has taken an interest, the essence of a citizen review board is to "encourage" the police department to act in a manner that keeps the need for citizen review, and State Attorney involvement, at a minimum.
"Cost to taxpayers" is frequently mentioned as a reason not to have a citizen review board. Large scale citizen review boards may have a director, an administrative assistant, and one or more investigators. In Key West, with its large contingent of volunteers, retirees, and concerned citizens, it is not unusual to see people serve at no cost as a public service.
You can expect to hear exaggerated costs from those against citizen review. Another consideration, which is familiar to many lawyers goes like this. If citizen review has the effect of preventing one or more costly lawsuits, the result is both a better police department and potentially lower cost over all.
"Key West is too small to need citizen review of the police." My research indicates that Citizen Review can be found across country in cities and towns of various sizes. It seems reasonable that the need for citizen review should be more based on various factors of need or the lack of it, rather than the size of the community.
"Only the `liberal lunatic fringe' and the `bad folks' want this CRB" This argument doesn't deserve much discussion. Abraham Lincoln covered this one when he said " It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."
One of the most transparent manipulation tactics is to try to build a "them against us" mentality. The technique tries to associate what you oppose with "people who aren't like us. . ."
Proponents and opponents of CRB seem to cross all cultural lines. It seems more important to focus on the issues rather than the individuals involved. As is sometimes said, "Fix the problem not the blame."
"The citizens DO TRUST the police and the Internal Affairs procedures." This may be true about some of the citizens. It may even be true about a majority of the citizens. As difficult as is for lawyers, elected officials, police and others to accept, a large part of the Key West world is not involved, on a daily basis, with things that happen at the Courthouse, City Hall or the Police Department.
As some have told me, those who are not involved in the legal system, government or law enforcement seem to do quite nicely, thank you very much. Said differently, many citizens neither know about the need for civilian review nor care. They don't expect to be affected whether there is citizen review or not.
Given the interest in an initiative petition, the answer to how many people care will be determined, very likely, in the voting booth. You can expect that many who are afraid to take a stand against the police publicly, will have no such reservation when they mark their ballot.
Let's solicit more discussion on the issue of citizen review. Let's focus on the facts and not the fiction.
Michael R. Barnes practices law in Key West, Florida. His comments are provided as a pro bono community service and are not offered as legal advice for a particular set of circumstances. If you are concerned that you may need a lawyer, you are encouraged to contact one and follow his or her advice for your individual situation.