In December, Raleigh’s Human Relations Commission unanimously recommended that the city council create a civilian police review board that has both investigative and subpoena powers.
But last Tuesday, when the council heard a long-awaited presentation from the city staff on what Raleigh’s oversight board could look like, the HRC’s recommendation was conspicuously absent. As it turns out, the city manager’s office decided that the council—and the public—didn’t need to hear what the HRC had to say.
Instead, human relations director Audrea Caesar told council members that civilian oversight boards are ineffective and recommended a hybrid model that would combine city staffers with civilians. Other possible alternatives included improving the internal affairs process and better community engagement.
Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown opposed the independent board, too, telling council members it could hinder police operations and wouldn’t offer a “be-all-end-all” guarantee of accountability.
“At what point does performance become so restricted that officers cannot do their jobs?” Deck-Brown asked. “They are the ones running toward danger at the risk of their own lives.”
Police are already held accountable through the department’s accreditation process, Deck-Brown said. And in 2018, police used force in only 379 out of 375,900 encounters. The oversight board, she suggested, would be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Perhaps that’s true. But as reform advocates point out, you’ll have to take Deck-Brown’s word for it. In Raleigh, as elsewhere in North Carolina, the police disciplinary process is incredibly opaque.
Under state law, the public can’t access officers’ personnel files to see what misconduct they’ve been accused of or disciplined for. If an internal affairs complaint is sustained, residents aren’t told how an officer was punished. If the complaint is rejected, there’s no recourse—and no way to access records—short of a lawsuit.
In 2018, the Raleigh Police Department conducted forty-nine internal affairs investigations. Twenty-nine were sustained, resulting in discipline.
In the last six weeks, Raleigh officers have shot two men, one fatally. Both appear to have histories of mental illness.
On May 19, Michael Anthony Hendricks Jr., who was holding an airsoft gun, was shot in the abdomen; he survived. On April 22, an officer shot and killed Soheil Mojarrad, who the police say was brandishing a knife. Because the officer did not turn on his body camera, there’s no footage of that encounter.
Calls for an oversight board have grown since Mojarrad’s death. Three weeks ago, protesters with the Police Accountability Community Taskforce took over a city council meeting to demand action.
The options the city’s staff presented to the council last week fall well short of what the protesters and other advocates say is needed: an autonomous board with teeth.
“If they implement any of these plans, it will be a slap in the face to the activists who have been trying to create a board with real accountability,” says Dawn Blagrove, director of the Carolina Justice Policy Center.
The HRC voted for a civilian board that would have access to police personnel files, could investigate citizen complaints, and could influence discipline.
“I think we need one,” says HRC member Keith Karlsson. “There’s too many instances of police shootings and other problems in the city without accountability to the citizens.”
After its vote in December, the HRC asked to present its recommendation to the city council. But the city manager’s office refused, according to the HRC’s meeting minutes from February 14. HRC chairman Chris Moutos said there “has never been a time when HRC was denied access to the city council,” according to the minutes, and asked council member David Cox for help. (Cox did not respond to a request for comment. City manager Ruffin Hall could not be reached Tuesday.)
Moutos says he emailed the report to the entire council in February; however, council members Nicole Stewart and Corey Branch say they didn’t see it until late last week, three days after the staff’s presentation.
That presentation made no mention of the HRC’s recommendation. And neither it nor the HRC’s minutes referencing it are available on the city’s website.
The city’s position is that a civilian board is impractical because it would require the General Assembly to change the law—which is why nothing like it exists in North Carolina. If state law didn’t change, Deck-Brown told the council, the board wouldn’t have access to personnel files. Without those files, it couldn’t take into account an employee’s history when making disciplinary decisions.
The hybrid model, Caesar said, would have limited access to restricted information. On the downside, “internal processes tend to lack the transparency that the community desires,” according to the staff presentation.
But without transparency, Moutos says, you’re left trusting the city staff to be neutral. That renders the model ineffective.
Blagrove says the city should be willing to challenge the legislature.
“Because it hasn’t been done is not an excuse not to do it,” Blagrove says. “We should be leaders in the state on forward-facing policies especially as it relates to police accountability. The fact it hasn’t been done before, if anything, should incentivize our leaders to get this done.”
After the presentation, the council voted to have its staff look into improving community engagement.
HRC Police Oversight Board … by on Scribd
Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.
At the December meeting the HRC discussed presenting their recommendation to Council. I noted that it is the Mayor that sets the agenda and advised that the HRC contact her. Here is the Mayor’s response from Feb 18:
Chair Moutos and members of the Human Relations Commission,
Thank you for sending your report to me and Council
The report is being referred to Deputy City Manager Marchell Adams-David, who is copied on this email. Deputy Manager Adams-David is collecting recommendations and input related to police oversight and will be bring a report to Council (at a future date to be determined). Your report will be incorporated into that work.
Staff will follow up with the Commission, via your staff liaison, if there are any questions about the report the Commission provided.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane
How about our city leaders do what is best for the city and stop worrying about what impediments our unconstitutionally constituted General Assembly has laid in their path. Make the GA take them to court instead of bowing down to them.
Comments are closed.