In the 15 years since it was created, the Citizen Review Board of Charlotte—tasked with investigating complaints of police misconduct—has sided with the police. Not once was a citizen vindicated for coming forward with a complaint. While the city would say this is evidence that the police do a good job of policing themselves, others aren’t so sure.
According to the Charlotte Observer, the board is made up of 11 volunteers. They can only look at cases after a police Internal Affairs investigation is complete. Less than 20% of all review boards across the nation work in this way. Instead, most can initiate their own investigations or at the request of nearly anyone at any time in the process. Here they can only look at appeals.
For this reason, in the 15 years since it was formed, the board has only examined 78 cases, a figure called “remarkably low” by Pierce Murphy, the former president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
Even lower than the 78 cases that the board has looked at is the number they’ve actually had hearings on. In 15 years, there have been a total of four hearings. And like all of the other investigations, these four sided with police.
The numbers add up to making the CMPD Citizen Review Board one of the “weakest in the nation” says the Observer.
The board was created in 1997 after three unarmed African-American men were killed by white officers in three separate incidences.
“The review board gave the appearance of giving citizens a right to complain about police,” says civil rights lawyer and former board chairman George Daly. “But that right was an illusion.”
In other cities, boards can take complaints directly from citizens or even other cops. They can also launch their own investigations and are given considerable power in recommending discipline. Some can subpoena evidence and order officers to mediation. In Charlotte, that simply isn’t the case.
The board says it does what it’s legally allowed to do, which is “advise the police chief (and the city manager) when a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ (more evidence than not) establishes that the chief or his Internal Affairs designees have ‘abused their discretion’ in imposing discipline,” according to current chairman Gregory West.
Perhaps, then, the board’s duties need to be revisited. Following the Observer’s initial report on the shortcomings of the board, Mayor Anthony Foxx says he is looking into the matter and the board themselves is looking at reform proposals.
There must be a legitimate means for citizens to complain about police misconduct otherwise the only voice of the people is that of defendants in court.