Why we need a Citizen's Police Review Board
In January, when student Corey Rice was shot and killed by GPD officer James Hecksel, for many of us it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Independently of each other, citizens started working to improve community-police relations and to level the playing field that is tilted in favor of law enforcement.
As we came together, we decided on what we would do. We collected records from GPD on citizen complaints, use of force, SRT (SWAT) deployments, internally generated complaints (police vs. police), and policy.
We looked at what other communities have done to improve the community-police relations and we found that many communities across the country were implementing citizen police review boards. We studied those boards and have spoken to some of the police, investigators, and board members in those cities. We have drawn up an ordinance for the city of Gainesville that implements the best components of those other boards, learning from their mistakes and their achievements.
In order to have a good community-police partnership, both sides have to feel that their voice will be heard. Under the present system, if citizens have a problem with the police, they go to the police department and make their complaint to the police, who are the 'brothers' of the police they are complaining about. This is not fair, independent or just. As GPD spokesman Keith Kameg said (concerning the indictment of Officer Hecksel), " The feelings of the officers abound from feeling that why did this happen to it doesn't matter if it happened because he is one of us." Well, it does matter and as long as law enforcement has that attitude about us, the people they serve, there is no partnership.
After viewing the video of the shooting of Corey Rice, Chief Botsford said that this was a good shoot. He sets the tone for the department. How can the citizens have faith in a department when the chief thinks it's okay to kill unarmed citizens and the rank and file sees it as 'us against them'? We are being asked to trust Internal Affairs whose tone is set by the chief and some of whose members think "...it doesn't matter if it happened because he is one of us." (Part of the video is available online at the Gainesville Sun website, www.gvillesun.com, under "Archives" on the left side of the screen, click on Hecksel case.)
One of the arguments we have heard is that the grand jury is all the citizen review board that we need. Absolutely not true. First, 99% of police complaints do not go to the grand jury--they are handled by police Internal Affairs. Secondly, any attorney will tell you that the grand jury will do whatever the prosecutor wants it to do, as the prosecutor is the one who decides what testimony and evidence will be presented to the grand jury. In the Corey Rice shooting, there was a video tape that recorded the events, making it hard to ignore what happened. In Archer last year, an unarmed black man with AIDS was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy and there was no tape. Consequently, the sheriff's office was cleared even though many people believe that this shooting was a criminal act. A citizen review board could have gotten to the bottom of this.
One commissioner said that the timing is bad and that the morale of GPD officers is so bad that we have to wait. When things are not so bad, they say don't fix what isn't broken. It's a catch-22. Furthermore, the commissioners should be more concerned with the morale of the public.
One commissioner said the County Sheriff's department was worse and we should get a review board for them first. Well, we intend to do that, but for the county it will take an amendment to the County Charter (which we are working on), but that is no reason not to do what is right for the citizens of the city now.
A level playing field makes the best partnership and a citizen police review board will level the playing field to allow citizens' concerns and complaints to be addressed in a neutral atmosphere with independent investigators who are backed by the authority of the law.
If the city commission is really concerned with the morale of the police officers or the citizens, then they will pass this ordinance promptly. We will not stop until we have an ordinance which will level the playing field and change the attitude from one of 'them against us' to just 'us', all the citizens of Gainesville.
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