Audit and Review Committee considers changes to oversight group

Members of a civilian oversight committee that hears appeals of police department complaints say they have no concerns about changes that have been proposed.

Recommended changes were presented to the city’s Audit and Review Committee during a two-hour meeting Thursday to provide clarity to the group, said Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development for the city.

The committee, established in 1992 and whose members are appointed by the mayor, 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 city has spent the past 18 months looking at the committee’s role and has worked with the African American Pastors Alliance, a group of leaders from five predominantly black churches in the area, on the proposed updates.

Ferdon said the city looked at 26 other cities that have civilian oversight processes, with all of them having a structure for addressing complaints against the police. When Mayor Jim Lienhoop took office in 2016, he was approached by the pastors alliance to review the panel’s process to see whether changes could be made.

Changes being proposed include creation of an online submission form where complaints could be submitted, an opportunity for mediation to occur and to make complaint forms available at various locations in Columbus such as the Bartholomew County Public Library.

Other changes being considered are removing membership seats reserved for the Bartholomew County NAACP president and a representative of the pastors alliance, as well as changing the name of the committee to the Columbus Police Review Board to better reflect its mission, said Aida Ramirez, director of the city’s human rights commission.

Ramirez said the city wants to have the committee reflect the diversity of the community, and saving spots for specific organizations could violate the Constitution.

For more on this story, see Saturday’s Republic.

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