The Raleigh City Council is asking the legislature to give its police advisory board oversight powers, which could include the ability to investigate and discipline officers. 

Council member Jonathan Melton spearheaded the initiative at the Council’s virtual meeting Tuesday. With little discussion, the council voted unanimously to send a letter to state leaders and add the topic to the council’s legislative agenda for 2021.

“The police advisory board is limited in its current authority,” Melton said via webcam Tuesday. “It certainly falls short of what some members of the community have asked for and it falls short of what I campaigned on.” 

The council recently appointed nine members to the board, which consists of four at large members and a mental health provider, victim’s advocate, lawyer, member of the LGBTQ community, and appointee of the police chief. As crafted, the board can only review policy and conduct public outreach. It cannot hear citizen complaints, conduct investigations or discipline officers, measures community advocates have been urging the council to pursuit for years. 

The biggest hurdle—aside from political will—is that state law greatly limits the public’s access to police personnel records.  Essentially, the General Assembly determines the powers of the state’s municipalities, which currently does not include access to police records. Therefore, Raleigh would need to ask the NCGA to grant it the power to review those records exclusively or lobby for a law giving all municipalities the right to so. 

The council’s letter Tuesday marks an important first step towards the type of police accountability board activists have been calling for, which includes investigatory and subpoena powers. Addressed to Governor Roy Cooper, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, and Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, the letter notes the state’s recent efforts to address criminal justice reform and says the city “would welcome authority to provide more transparency, oversight, and power to our community.”

“We look forward to working with you,” it states. 

The city has endured weeks of protests, the vast majority of which have been peaceful. However, violence erupted in late May after police deployed tear gas and shot rubber bullets at hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters calling for justice on behalf of George Floyd. In the chaos, small groups began to riot resulting in widespread property damage to downtown businesses.

Protesters have been a continuous presence downtown since and at least two dozen have been arrested in recent weeks, including a Black 17-year-old girl who was filmed being dragged on the ground by police. While Raleigh Police initially claimed she had assaulted a cop, body camera footage of the incident showed no physical contact between the girl and officer. The charges against her were immediately dropped and an internal review of the incident is underway. 

Most recently, protesters have gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion in protest of a bill that would have concealed the death records of people that die in police custody. Although Governor Cooper vetoed the bill Monday, protesters say they will continue calling for racial justice and police accountability. 

“I feel it’s important in this moment to indicate that Raleigh will work toward a true community oversight board if granted the authority,” Melton told the INDY Tuesday. 

Read the full letter below:

Raleigh City Council Letter by Leigh Tauss on Scribd

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