Proposed updates tied to a seldom-used civilian oversight committee that hears appeals of police department complaints will be the focus of a public meeting this week.

The city will preview proposed updates to the Audit and Review Committee and to allow community members to add their own suggestions, said Aida Ramirez, director of the city’s Human Rights Commission. The meeting is scheduled for 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Donner Center, 739 22nd St.

Fifteen complaints were filed against the police department in 2016 and another nine filed in 2017, Police Chief Jon Rohde said.

However, the panel — which was established by a city resolution in 1992 and whose members are appointed by the mayor — has convened once since 2012.

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The Audit and Review Committee only becomes involved once an appeal is filed by an individual if he or she doesn’t agree with the police department’s administrative finding, Ramirez said. In 2016, the committee supported the police department’s administrative denial of a local man’s claim of racial discrimination following an arrest. No appeals were filed last year.

The city, which has spent the past 18 months examining the committee’s role, has proposed several changes after a year-long discussion with the African American Pastor’s Alliance, a group made of leaders from five predominantly black churches in the area.

What was a good process at the time the committee was created has become outdated, said David Bosley, pastor of Dayspring Church of God Apostolic and a member of the alliance.

The pastor’s alliance made a presentation to the city with its list of recommended changes, Bosley said.

They included having complaint forms available at different locations in Columbus and providing a better understanding of the current process.

The city has proposed having an online complaint form available for individuals to fill out, in addition to brochures detailing information about the process that will double as a complaint form.

The Bartholomew County Public Library and Lincoln-Central Family Neighborhood Center are being considered as potential locations where individuals can access complaint forms, Ramirez said.

Those two changes are something the pastor’s alliance favors, Bosley said.

Individuals also will have the option of filing an appeal at the police department or the city’s Human Rights Commission under another change being proposed.

The pastor’s alliance also recommended not having a representative of the police department serving on the Audit and Review Committee, Bosley said. Individuals serving on the committee should be able to provide an independent perspective tied to complaints involving the police department, he said.

While the committee currently has a member of the police department that serves as a liaison, the individual does not hear any complaints since that person serves in a non-voting capacity, said Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development.

The city also is proposing changing the name of the panel to the Columbus Police Review Board to better reflect its mission.

In addition, complainants would have the opportunity to be involved in mediation with Rohde in an attempt to resolve the issue, Ferdon said.

“From the police department’s perspective, we want the citizens to feel like they have a fair opportunity,” Rohde said.

Rohde said he thinks the updates will help streamline the process whenever someone has an issue with the police department.

“It’s another way to build relationships and integrate the police into the community,” Rohde said. “If someone has a complaint, we want to address that.”

As part of the process, research on civilian law enforcement oversight committees was conducted by a local consultant, Lyn Morgan, who was hired by the city last year. The analysis included benchmarking and the effectiveness of local and national civilian law enforcement oversight committee, Ferdon said.

Columbus looked at 12 cities within Indiana and 14 others across the country that have civilian oversight processes or were ranked as best places to live in different categories. All of the cities reviewed had a process for police complaints, with 16 of them having some form of an appeals process, Ferdon said.

Most recent case

The 2016 appeal to the Audit and Review Committee involved a man who was arrested after being accused of lighting firecrackers during the July 4 holiday. In the complaint, the man said police took the word of other people who were present instead of his work, because of his skin color. The man, who was arrested for disorderly conduct, was African-American.

Authorities said at the time that the individual was using profane language and had raised his voice when police officers asked him to return to his home.

Complaints by the public against the police department, including this one, are investigated by the department with a determination being made by a supervisor within the department or a special investigator assigned by the police chief.

The appeal in this case was filed July 6, 2016, by the Columbus man. An internal investigation by the police department determined July 29 of that year that the complaint of racial discrimination was unfounded.

What’s ahead

Bosley said he hasn’t seen a final draft of the city’s recommendations and said he is looking forward to hearing what the proposal involves. The updates are subject to approval by the city’s Board of Public Works, which is expected to review the proposed changes in February.

Bosley added that the ongoing work between the city and the pastor’s alliance has been positive.

“It’s been encouraging that the city has responded positively,” he said.

The pastor’s alliance will be monitoring the changes closely, said the Rev. Frank Griffin of Thy Kingdom Come Ministries in Greenwood, another member.

“We think it’s a step in the right direction,” Griffin said. “We all want what’s best for the city.”

The organization also has had preliminary discussions with Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers regarding similar changes at the county level, Griffin said.

If you go

What: Proposed updates to the city’s Audit and Review Committee, which hears appeals of complaints filed against the Columbus Police Department.

When: 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Donner Center, 739 22nd St.

Complaint process against city police

Here is the timeline resident and city leaders must follow when an appeal is filed against the Columbus Police Department’s investigation into a citizen complaint:

  • After the citizen has been informed of the police chief’s determination of the complaint, the citizen has the opportunity to appeal within 15 days.
  • After an appeal has been filed, a review by the Audit and Review Committee is arranged by the police chief.
  • Board of Works members must then give approval to allow the Audit and Review Committee to review the appeal.
  • Three people selected by a chairperson would then review the complaint with the group’s findings being sent to the Board of Works, which can accept or reject the findings.

Audit and review committee members

Non-voting members

– Columbus Police Department representative, selected by the department: Sgt. Steve Long (one-year term)

– Human Rights: Ian Kohen

Voting members

– NAACP President: Stella Collins

– African American Pastor’s Alliance designee: Pastor Steve Millon (three-year term)

– Resident Ric King (Chairperson, three-year term)

– Resident Annette Barnes (three-year term)

– Resident Pastor Dan Mitchell (three-year term)

Ex-officio

Human Rights department, administrative technical assistance

City Council liaison: Tom Dell

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