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ACLU of Utah Encourages SLC to Make Civilian Review Board More Independent

04 March 2001 Published in Local Policy Work

ACLU of Utah sends letter to mayor on Salt Lake City’s proposed Police Civilian Review Board ordinancepolicy

 

March 5, 2001

Mayor Rocky Anderson
451 South State Street #306
Salt Lake City, UT 84111

Re: Proposed Ordinance for the Police Civilian Review Board

Dear Rocky,

We are excited that you are revisiting the ordinance that established Salt Lake City’s Civilian Review Board. The model you’ve proposed has some significant advantages to the current structure, most notably the addition of a full-time investigator who reports to the CRB. Also, by granting this investigator access to all internal affairs information and having her investigation parallel that of the internal affairs department, the proposed ordinance allows the new employee to act as an auditor of the IA process.

However, as was evident at the February 16 public hearing, we do feel that there are ways to make an even stronger and more independent CRB. While I was able to address most of the following issues at the hearing, I wanted to make sure that our concerns and recommendations are included in the written record.

On that note, we strongly recommend the following:

1) The CRB has a fundamental role in hiring and firing its investigator.

We are concerned about the real or perceived conflict of interest in the fact that the person who hires the chief of police also has absolute control over the appointment of the person who investigates complaints against the police department. The investigator must be truly independent, and she should not have to worry about job security because the chief of police is a friend of the mayor’s. Also, on a practical level, the investigator works for the CRB, and board members should therefore be able to participate in the hiring process. One possible solution is to set up a system in which the investigator can be hired or fired by the mayor with the concurrence of the majority vote of the CRB, or by a majority vote of the CRB with the concurrence of the mayor.

2) The investigator has subpoena power.

Any meaningful investigation requires a full analysis of the facts surrounding a complaint, and it is therefore particularly important that the investigator be granted subpoena powers. Otherwise, she will be unable to do her job if a police officer or citizen refuses to cooperate in the investigation. I’ve enclosed Samuel Walker’s excellent outline of different CRB models, and at the time it was written, an estimated 38% of citizen review procedures included subpoena powers. Our hope is that Salt Lake City will institute a similar model.

3) Citizens are able to arrange for an investigation independent of the police department.

Some residents may be fearful of the police, and as a result, will not contact the police department to arrange for or participate in an investigation even if they have legitimate grievances. For this population, it would be helpful if there were a designated phone number and location outside of the police department at which city residents can contact the independent investigator. Residents will be assured that an individual who is not associated with the police department is reviewing their complaints, and they may have an increased confidence in the independence of the review procedure.

4) The investigator helps develop the early warning system.

Because the CRB and its investigator are responsible for identifying systemic problems and problem officers, it is only practical that the investigator be involved in creating an early warning system. Also, if such a system were to originate from both the chief of police and the CRB, it may have much more credibility than one that comes solely from within the police department.

5) The ordinance explicitly states that CRB reports are public documents.

A consequence of an effective CRB is that communities have increased confidence in law enforcement because they believe that officers are accountable to the public. It is therefore essential that CRB reports be both public and publicized.

Thank you for taking our concerns into consideration – it’s a welcome change to know that I do not have to spend any portion of this letter convincing you about the importance of a strong Civilian Review Board. As always, please feel free to call me directly if you have any questions about our position.

Sincerely,

Carol Gnade
Executive Director

cc: Ken Gardner, Chair, Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board