Bell revamping Civilian Police Review BoardWritten by Morgan Delp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Civilian Police Review Board, which was created in 1991 under Mayor John McHugh, has been revamped by Mayor Mike Bell and his administration.
The board has acquired new members and rewritten its policies since January 2011, in the hopes of more effectively acting as “an extra set of eyes and ears for the citizens of Toledo,” Chairman Lisa Canales said.
Canales, who has been chairman for close to 10 years and is the education director for NAMI of Greater Toledo, said the board was created because there were so many conflicts and a huge outcry from people who felt like they didn’t have a voice when it came to the Toledo Police Department (TPD).
The advisory board is in place as a last resort for citizens who do not agree with the findings of an investigation made by Internal Affairs.
“If you have a complaint against TPD, whether it be abusive authority, or an officer looked at you wrong, to other more important things, … you request an investigation by Internal Affairs,” Canales said. “Internal Affairs will look at the police report, contact witnesses and begin their formal procedure as far as formal investigation. Once that is done, they will … decide if the complaint has any merit.
“They send a letter to the citizen, … telling them that their last option if they don’t agree with the findings is the Civilian Review Board. They have within 14 days to complete that and then we start our investigation,” Canales said. “We go back and look at [the information] and try to decide if we agree with Internal Affairs and their investigation, which is very thorough and very complete.”
Canales said in her experience, the board has both agreed with and at other times disagreed with Internal Affairs’ findings.
“There have been a couple of times where we have stepped in and asked different questions, like ‘Could you have handled it differently? Could this officer use some sensitivity training?’” Canales said. “It’s a check and balance to make sure everybody is doing their job.”
Vital, but …
Canales said while she feels the board is vital to the community, she does not agree with its role as an advisory board.
“It’s not that it needs a lot of power, but to be an advisory board is not OK,” Canales said. “If we are to succeed, we need to sit at the same table with the same amount of authority, in a sense. I don’t think it should be a board that defines whether or not an officer should be fired or not fired, but it needs to be [elevated] to have a little more meat to it.”
Canales concedes that the board does have more power than it used to, thanks to a positive collaboration with former Chief of Police Mike Navarre. She said there was mutual respect between Navarre and the board, and feels the same support from new Chief of Police Derrick Diggs.
“We would get a case 20 or 30 pages thick, and the officer’s name would be marked out so we couldn’t see who the officer was or any of the witness names. That was one of the things Chief Navarre worked with us to fix,” Canales said.
Canales said it was impossible to judge a case without knowing the officer’s name.
“How do we know if it’s the same officer doing everything or one silly complaint about a good officer?” Canales asked. “Now we can infer if it is an officer that has an issue or not.”
A team affiliated with the board has researched similar organizations in other cities and found that many of them are more active and have more of a say in citizen complaints, Canales said.
Shirley Green, safety director for Toledo, serves as a liaison between the board and the mayor’s administration. She said she does not think there is a need to change the role of the advisory board.
“There would have to be a need for a change to be made and right now there isn’t any need for a change to occur,” Green said. “The board is set up by the City of Toledo Ordinance and its function and responsibility are set by the ordinance, so for [the board] to be changed, [the ordinance] would have to be changed.”
Established through the city ordinance, the board is comprised of mayoral appointments. The volunteer board members serve two- and four-year terms, and may be reappointed for many years.
Melvin Stachura, a retired Toledo police officer who has sat on the board for a little more than a year, said an advisory board is adequate since the board is not handling a lot of cases right now.
“If they’re going to increase the amount of cases then there should be an increase in power or oversight,” Stachura said. “When you’re only getting a couple of cases a year there’s no reason to have (subpoena) power if it’s going to be lightly used.”
Barbara Laraway, secretary of the board and former executive of Parents Helping Parents, said the group is beginning to work well and come together for the community, the first step toward taking on a more active role.
“Our organization will have to work very hard to move from an advisory to have more teeth [in the process],” Laraway said. “We would like to move it but we have to have a good foundation for what we’re doing now.”
Morris Jenkins is vice chairman of the board and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Toledo. He has been rewriting the policies of the board to make the process easier for citizens and the responses a little more timely, he said. Jenkins is an active advocate of restorative justice, and said this board is an important piece in bridging the gap between the community and the corrective system.
“When you have a 12-member board, there’s going to be people that don’t know what officers are supposed to do or why they act the way they do in a situation, so we (ex-officers) have the perspective to say why they did something, or why they reacted in a particular way,” Stachura said.
Canales said she makes every board member, with the exception of ex-officers, ride with Toledo police officers twice a year to understand their point of view and what they deal with on the job.
“The board is made up of lots of people that may see things differently,” Canales said. “[Riding with the officers] helps everyone see from that perspective as well.”
More available to public
Keith Jordan, executive vice president and director of development at JLJ Vision Outreach, has been on the board for six years. He said the group Mayor Bell appointed are “doers” who know their purpose is to serve the community and not themselves. He said that right now, the group’s goal is to make itself more known and available to the public.
“I want the community to hold us accountable for our position. I want citizens to ask about our meetings, find out our records, make sure we are hearing cases. We want the community to be aware of us,” he said.
The board is currently working on one case and meets monthly, with emergency meetings called when necessary, Canales said. The board is planning on releasing literature in the next few weeks to area post offices, libraries and other public places to increase awareness, Canales said.