Public input aiding strides on police complaints review process

Columbus Police Department has had a longstanding process for reviewing complaints from local residents. It involves a review by police supervisors to determine the merit, and also an appeal process to a civilian oversight committee.

The Audit and Review Committee’s voting members include three appointed residents, and a representative of both the local African American Pastors Alliance and the local NAACP chapter.

Having that procedure in place should provide some reassurance to residents that their voices can be heard. But with any process that’s been set in place for an extended period, taking another look at how it is functioning is a good thing.

Such has been the case the past 18 months regarding the city’s complaint process involving the police. The city studied the practices of other departments with complaint processes that involve civilian oversight. Now we’re seeing some movement on how a revised process might work.

The African American Pastors Alliance and the local NAACP chapter no longer want police supervisors to initially review the complaints, in order to remove the possibility of objectivity being skewed. They want complaints to go straight to the Audit and Review Committee, which was created in 1992 and whose members are primarily appointed by the mayor.

The city also is considering:

  • Changing the committee’s name to the Columbus Police Review Board to better reflect its mission
  • Updating the complaint form to allow more room for narratives to be written
  • An online submission form
  • An opportunity for mediation
  • Allowing complaint forms to be filed at the city’s Human Rights Commission office, in addition to the police department
  • Eliminating the automatic slots on the committee for the African American Pastors Alliance and the NAACP and instead having five mayoral appointments represent the diversity of the community

One change already is planned. The city will create brochures and make complaint forms available at different locations around Columbus.

It’s good to see progress made in this matter, with multiple proposed changes on the table for consideration. That gives all with an interest opportunity to work through suggestions and devise a review process that works well for all parties.

Open dialogue will be important considering the differences of opinion that exist on some of the suggestions. For example, the pastors alliance and NAACP chapter are concerned about the possibility of no African-Americans being on the committee under the city’s proposal and would like a guarantee that at least one of the organizations is represented. The current construct of the committee lacks representation from the city’s two largest minority groups, Asians and Latinos, with four of five voting members being African-American.

It’s good that this process is being conducted in public, allowing residents the opportunity to weigh in. One public meeting on the issue was conducted Jan. 18, with about 20 people in attendance at Donner Center, and another meeting is being planned for February.

A matter as important as ensuring that residents can expect a fair review of complaints against police deserves public transparency.

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