Police board under review

Audit committee changes considered

Columbus is exploring changes to a civilian oversight committee that hears appeals of police department complaints.

The city plans to look at the current processes tied to the audit and review committee to see if any improvements can be made, said Mary Ferdon, the city’s executive director of administration and community development. The 10-person panel was established by a city resolution in 1992.

The group, appointed by the mayor, is made up of individuals representing organizations such as the local NAACP chapter, Columbus Human Rights Commission and the city police department.

The city has hired a consultant, Lyn Morgan, to perform research on civilian law enforcement oversight committees. Morgan is also being asked to establish benchmarks to see where improvements in Columbus can be made.

Morgan, who most recently served as president of the Centra Foundation, will be paid $30 an hour for her work until June 30 for an amount not to exceed $6,000, according to the agreement.

Complaints lodged by the public against the police department are investigated at the administrative level with a determination eventually being made. The committee becomes involved if an appeal is made by an individual doesn’t agree with the administrative finding, Ferdon said.

Ferdon said the audit and review committee heard one appeal in 2016. Over the past five years, an average of 10 complaints each year have been filed with the police department, she said.

The appeal last year, filed against the police department July 6 by a Columbus man, was the first time the committee reviewed a citizen complaint since 2012. An internal investigation by the department determined on July 29 that it was unfounded. The panel upheld the rejection of a complaint of racial discrimination against the Columbus Police Department.

The committee, which meets on a monthly basis, also hears how many complaints were filed against the police department and what the final resolution was.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop’s administration is reviewing many policies and procedures in an effort to streamline processes and to check for process, accuracy and relevancy, said Aida Ramirez, director of the city’s Human Rights Commission.

Ramirez said at the time the committee was formed, there were very few civilian law enforcement oversight boards. She added there is now a national organization and several model programs, data and research are available.

“This research aims to benchmark best practices and see if there are any possible areas of improvement for our civilian committee,” Ramirez said.

In doing so, the city can review the methods of programs that are working well elsewhere and evaluate them against its own, she said.

Ferdon said Columbus plans to identify about a dozen other cities in Indiana and other comparable communities throughout the nation that have civilian law enforcement oversight committees. Once the information is gathered, the city will look at implementing changes that may include modifications to its bylaws as well, she said.

What civilian police oversight committee does

The city’s Audit and Review Committee for Citizen and Police Relations is a 10-member panel that was established by a city resolution in 1992.

Complaints lodged by the public against the police department are investigated at the administrative level with a determination eventually being made. The committee gets involved if an appeal is made by an individual who disagrees with the resolution, said Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development with the city.

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com