Mar 26, 2012 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Crystal Collette has a full-time job as Education and Outreach Manager at Planned Parenthood, but she recently took on a role that she knows will require the energy for a second full-time effort. She threw her hat in the ring for chair of the newly legislated Citizen Review Board, and was elected by her colleagues.
“Common Councilor Jean Kessner and I had done a lot of work together in the community in the past,” she reflects. “Jean knew through my previous work at Vera House, that this was an issue that was very important to me, so she nominated me for the board.”
The issue, accountability of the Police Department to the community, has been one of controversy locally for the past two decades. Collette thinks she has a unique perspective for her role, based on experience in community organizing and in “working with folks who have different perspectives.” She is pleased with the new CRB legislation recently passed by the Common Council, and is looking forward to the board’s first major task, hiring an administrator for the oversight body.
Way, way back in the day, then Common Councilor Charles Anderson proposed the original CRB concept which faced heavy opposition. Other councilors advised him to water down the proposal to get it established, indicating it could be strengthened later on, which it never was.
A hopeful difference…
“The new legislation has some real additions to it that provide for much more oversight,’ Collette observes, “to make sure that we have a functioning, healthy CRB that has some ability to make things happen. It’s very rare in a city of our size for the Citizen Review Board — in many other cities it’s called the Civilian Review Board, an important distinction — to have actual supervisory power over their police department.”
For Collette, the semantic distinction really defines the relationship possible between the police and an oversight agency. “Using the term civilian,” she maintains, “really perpetuates that the police hold a military power over the community. I’ve been told that it was a conscious choice during the drafting of the first legislation that we are citizens, members of the community, who care about police accountability and care about the integrity of our police department and the community’s trust in the police.”
Collette sees major differences in the CRB legislation then and now to enhance police-community relations. “A lot of differences around how the CRB runs,” she notes, “the job description for the administrator, reporting requirements — we now have quarterly and annual reporting requirements. There is serious different language, much more specific, in the new legislation around the documents that the police are required to share with us and the timeline of investigations.”
. . . but a same old, same old
One thing, however, remains unchanged: strong, public opposition from the Police Benevolent Association. “I think it’s really disappointing,” she says, “that the PBA, from the minute out of the gate, has expressed unwillingness to explore abilities for partnership between officers and the CRB. I think what the union needs to see is that the CRB is an ethical, fair-minded body of people. We need to show them how we judge cases, how we do our job. Over time there is the opportunity of earning trust in the relationship. The Police Chief has been very supportive, and the mayor could support us in that, but nothing’s going to change right away. It’s going to take time.”