City Commission: "We ARE the police review board"
City cancels further police review board discussion
Jenny Brown
July/August 2002

Although a third of the meeting was taken up arguing over how to cram in everything they needed to discuss, the Gainesville City Commission on July 8 claimed that they could also fulfill the role of a Police Review Board. "We don't need a police review board, we are the police review board," said commissioner after commissioner at a meeting which lasted until 12:30 am and entirely failed to cover most of its scheduled agenda. The City Commission voted 4-1 to end forever any "discussion of, or discussion of the creation of, a police review board." Mayor Tom Bussing cast the lone dissenting vote, supporting a continuation of a dialog which started in March 2001.

New commissioner Ed Braddy brought the motion forward and pushed for it to be discussed as the auditorium filled with people wanting to speak on other issues scheduled for the evening's agenda. Ernesto Longa of Citizens for Police Review, the organization that brought forward the proposal for an independent police review board over a year ago, said that he had only found out that Braddy had placed the item on the agenda when he was called for comment by TV-20. He said that this was after a yearlong process and numerous hearings in which all parties were informed of the proceedings with adequate notice. He and other police review board supporters, along with Bussing, argued that the item should be taken up at a later date.

After lengthy bickering, during which both Braddy and Commissioner Tony Domenech stated that they had already made up their minds on the issue, the commission finally voted to discuss the issue and citizens lined up to support the concept and implementation of a police review board. Two dozen spoke for it while 4 spoke against it.

Despite the short notice, police review board advocates attending the meeting included over 20 feminists organized by the Gainesville Area National Organization for Women. They came to the meeting following a demonstration in front of the Gainesville Police Department. That the demonstration coincided with the meeting day was pure coincidence. (See NOW's statement) Woman after woman testified that GPDs arrest and jailing in April of a woman for falsely reporting rape showed the need for review of the police. Women who stated that they were victims of sexual assault explained how difficult it is to report rape in the first place, knowing that they are likely to be disbelieved by police and forced to prove their case in a 'my word against his word' type situation.

"If I see on TV that a woman was arrested for reporting her rape, makes me think even more that the police might decide to believe the man and throw me in jail for a supposedly false report," stated Gainesville Area NOW member Andrea Costello.

Feminists said that the Gainesville Police Department should "establish a no-arrest, no-charge policy for alleged false reports of rape." They argued that a Police Review Board would be "a place where women can file complaints against police policy and decisions."

Former NAACP president Ruth Brown said that in the African American community in Gainesville there is a perception of unfairness by the police department and ended her remarks by stating, "Somebody needs to be reviewing the police."

Gainesville resident James Callahan described a recent experience in which he witnessed an African American man being threatened at gunpoint by a Gainesville Police officer and then hit. (Callahan's story is in box at right.)

Callahan said he'd recently been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington and then he'd seen the movie Rosewood about the massacre and destruction of a town near here in the 1920s. Callahan described to the Commission his wonder that people didn't speak out to stop these things at the time. He stated that from witnessing what he'd witnessed he couldn't keep silent but that the process of filing a complaint was a nightmare designed to deter anyone from speaking out.

He said that one of the other witnesses in his tree crew backed down and changed his story to say he'd just heard some whacking noises. When Callahan asked the man why he wasn't willing to say what he saw, the man said he wanted to be a police officer someday and he was worried that if he spoke out it would mean he wouldn't get hired by the police department.

Jeff McAdams, President of the Fraternal Order of Police, dismissed Callahan's statement, saying that since the other witnesses had backed down, that proved it didn't really happen the way he said it had. The officer Callahan said he witnessed using excessive force was later identified as John O'Ferrell. Callahan's complaint was disposed of as "unfounded" by the police

Three others besides McAdams spoke against the concept of a police review board. Deborah Martinez said that she didn't know how good we had it in Gainesville until she'd lived in other towns where she was "more frightened of the police than the criminals." She also said that in communities where police review boards had been implemented there was a 600% increase in crime. It was unclear if these were the same towns where the police were so frightening.

There were also numerous calls on Braddy and the rest of the commission to allow the process of dialog around the issue to continue, since the Public Safety Committee's recommendations, which followed months of meetings, had not yet been thoroughly reviewed.

Two commissioners sit on the Public Safety Committee, Charles Chestnut IV and Warren Nielson. Last fall, the Public Safety Committee recommended that the city

  1. Hire an outside consultant to conduct a comprehensive review of the Gainesville Police Department's performance and procedures, and
  2. at the same time allow the continuation of the dialogue of Commissioner Chestnut's draft document, entitled Citizen Advisory Review Board, by retaining this referral with the Public Safety Committee.

This recommendation was approved 5-0 on November 26, 2001 by the full City Commission. Seven months and a city election passed, but the Public Safety Committee never continued the dialogue, and City staff had only just gotten figures for what a consultant would cost when Braddy moved that all discussion be killed.

So it was an odd twist when Chestnut and Nielson both voted against their own recommendation and voted to end further discussion.

Early in the July 8 meeting, Chestnut stated that he had sat through numerous public safety committee meetings in which many problems with GPD had been exposed, and he said that he thought a consultant would get help get to the bottom of the problems. Then, later in the meeting, explaining his vote, he stated that in all the meetings he attended, no problems were ever brought up about GPD.

New Commissioner Domenech stated emphatically "I'm your police review board," and said that if people have problems with the police they should bring them to him and he would get to the bottom of them.

Oddly, Braddy attacked the idea of a police review board because, he said, it would have no power to subpoena people to testify. The original proposal for the police review board prepared by Citizens for Police Review included subpoena power. Braddy also argued that a police review board would be pointless because it would be unable to discipline officers or even interview them about incidents in which they were involved. This argument was echoed by police chief Norman Botsford who said that these events would violate the "Police Officer's Bill of Rights" and the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Gainesville resident Charlie Grapski argues with this claim. "It's absurd for the chief of police to allege that officers have more rights than ordinary citizens. There is only one Bill of Rights and it applies equally to all. Thus the chief's assertions are wholly groundless, and this is supported by legal precedent, the plain language of the statute and the legislative record."

After the vote, around 11:30 p.m., Police Review Board supporters and the two or three opponents spilled out onto the steps of City Hall, dazed by the surreal meeting they had just endured. There seemed to be agreement among both opponents of the board and supporters, complaints against the Gainesville Police Department will continue, whether the City Commission wants to discuss proposals for dealing with them or not.

Feminists protest at the Gainesville Police Department July 8 in a demonstration organized by Gainesville Area NOW to protest the arrest and jailing of the woman for over two weeks for an allegedly false report that she was raped.

A police review board would be bad, Gainesville Police Chief Norman Botsford explains to the City Commission July 8. But then, he said in the days following the incident that Officer James Hecksel's shooting of Corey Rice was a 'good shoot.'

April Flanders holds a sign showing the likelihood that a rapist will ever be taken to court.

previous article [current issue] next article
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional eXTReMe Tracker