Appointees on civilian oversight committee to reflect diversity

The racial makeup of a civilian oversight committee that hears appeals of police department complaints could change under a proposal by the city.

The Audit and Review Committee, established by a city resolution in 1992, becomes involved once an appeal is filed by an individual if he or she doesn’t agree with the police department’s administrative findings following an internal investigation. The resolution signed in 1992 provided for membership to the committee based on personal characteristics/qualities and organization affiliation, said Aida Ramirez, director of the city’s human rights commission.

A membership seat on the panel was reserved for Bartholomew County’s NAACP president as part of the resolution, Ramirez said. In January 2015, former Mayor Kristen Brown made an amendment that allowed an additional seat on the committee to be held for a member of the African American Pastors Alliance, a group of leaders from five predominantly black churches in the area.

However, in revisions being considered by the city, Ramirez said the two groups would not have reserved positions on the committee.

That change was among several presented earlier this month by the city during a two-hour public meeting at the Donner Center. Under the proposal, five community members from a total of seven members on the committee appointed by the mayor shall represent the diversity of the community and must be residents of Bartholomew County.

Four voting members of the current committee, which serve three-year terms, are African-American: Stella Collins, president of the Bartholomew County chapter of the NAACP; Pastor Steve Millon, designee with the African American Pastors Alliance; resident Ric King, who serves as chairperson; and fellow resident Annette Barnes. The fifth appointed voting member, pastor Dan Mitchell from The Sanctuary Church in Columbus, is white.

Ramirez said there is a need to get more people involved, noting that there are no Latinos — who make up 5.7 percent of the city population — currently on the board. There are also no Asians, the largest minority in the city with 9.5 percent of its population according to a 2016 estimate. Blacks make up 2.8 percent of the city population while whites make up 82 percent.

Concerns about proposed changes have been raised by the pastors alliance, which has worked with the city on the proposed updates over the past year.

“Right now, there is no assurance there is a minority on the committee,” said Fred King, a pastor at Calvary Community Church.

The city should continue to have representation from either the Bartholomew County chapter of the NAACP or the pastors alliance moving forward, said the Rev. Frank Griffin of Thy Kingdom Come Ministries in Greenwood, another pastors alliance member.

“We need to have one of those organizations (on the committee),” Griffin said.

Appointments, however, will be left up to the discretion of the mayor, Ramirez said of that proposed change.

Since the meetings will continue to be open, “NAACP and pastors alliance members are welcome to attend as are any other members of the community,” Ramirez said.

City officials also have proposed changing the name of the committee to the Columbus Police Review Board to better reflect its mission.

The five members with voting authority would serve staggered terms during the transition from the Audit and Review Committee to the Columbus Police Review Board, according to a draft of language being proposed by the city.

The city plans to conduct another public meeting sometime in February to review the proposed changes.

The proposed changes are subject to approval by the Columbus Board of Public Works. If approved, the city hopes to have the changes take effect in the second quarter of this year.

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; term expires Jan. 1, 2021)

– Resident Ric King (Chairperson, three-year term; term expires Jan. 1, 2020)

– Resident Annette Barnes (three-year term; term expires Jan. 1, 2020)

– Resident Pastor Dan Mitchell (three-year term; term expires Jan. 1, 2020)

Ex-officio

Human Rights department, administrative technical assistance

City Council liaison: Tom Dell

How to express an interest in serving

Members of the public who are interested in serving on the Audit and Review Committee can write a letter to the mayor’s office at Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St., with background information about themselves. Prospective applicants are asked to have some understanding about law enforcement, but it is not a requirement.

Individuals can also email Mayor Jim Lienhoop at mayor@columbus.in.gov to express an interest in serving on the committee.

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