Citizen Oversight Committee attempts to gain insight from similar boards

Thursday, June 19, 2008 | 11:12 p.m. CDT; updated 1:16 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Citizen Oversight Committee held two teleconferences with existing police review boards Thursday night to get a picture of how review boards in other cities function.

Nine members of Columbia’s committee attended and spoke first with the Citizens Police Review Board in Albany, N.Y., followed by the Citizen Review Board in Fort Collins, Colo.

Diversity was apparent in both review boards from the conference calls, including in their complaint-handling procedures. The Columbia committee had 10 questions that it asked during the calls. These questions centered around the training of members, the board’s impact on the city in general and the minority makeups of the two locations.

Columbia committee members present found Albany’s experience to be more relevant than that of Fort Collins.

Albany, a city consisting of about 90,000 people, has had a review board in place for roughly eight years and is also the home of the Albany School of Law, which contributes to the committee by investigating claims from police and residents.

Rex Campbell, co-chair of Columbia’s oversight committee, asked the Albany board about the training its members receive.

The members of Albany’s review board said that they go through a citizen’s police academy as well as administrative and legal classes. The citizen’s police academy course consists of a 10-week program with class held one night a week. The same was true of the board members in Fort Collins.

Columbia committee member Joan Sullivan asked, “What impact has your board had on the city itself?”

The members of the Albany board said that its actions have had a direct impact on the policymaking of Albany’s police department. A Fort Collins board member seemed to hedge in his responses to questions about the board’s impact on the community and the minority population. He forwarded the questions to the Fort Collins city manager.

“Everything we asked him, he just kept telling us to call the city manager,” Columbia committee member Ellen LoCurto-Martinez said.

The presence of minorities on the respective boards was also different. The Albany board had three black members out of eight total. Fort Collins had six men and one woman, but it had no minority committee members.

“It seems as though the review board at Fort Collins is some kind of police project,” Columbia committee member Keith McLaughlin said.

The consensus at the end of the night from Columbia’s oversight committee was that the conferences, while informative, weren’t extremely beneficial to Columbia’s quest for external review itself.

Committee member Diane Booth said, “It’s still just a narrow insight.”

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