All over the country, we have been trained to believe that the police have our best interests at heart. But a thoughtful look at the reality reveals that this isn’t the case. Historically, police departments in the United States were invented to be slave catchers. Throughout our history, the police have been used to protect the elite and their riches. And just recently, the Supreme Court has ruled that the police have no obligation to protect citizens.
These national issues are mirrored locally. There are countless instances of police being abusive to citizens in the city – particularly in depressed areas where mostly people of color live. And when police are called out on it, nothing happens. Barbara Lacker-Ware & Ted Forsyth did an exhaustive study on this and it shows the need for a true citizen-run Police Accountability Board (PAB). [See the report here.]
I have been involved with the Police Accountability Board Alliance for a while. Our proposal for a true Police Accountability Board should be adopted by City Council and approved by the Mayor. The Mayor, in true political fashion has just submitted legislation that proposes a watered-down version that will uphold the status quo thus throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars.
City Council should not approve the Mayor’s attempt at subterfuge. Instead, they should continue to work with the PABA for a true Police Accountability Board that has the following pillars:
- An agency independent of city government, separate from RPD.
- The power to independently investigate complaints of police conduct.
- Subpoena power to compel the production of evidence and witnesses.
- Disciplinary power, using a disciplinary matrix.
- The power to review and evaluate RPD patterns, practices, policies, and procedures to recommend systemic changes and to prevent misconduct from happening in the first place.
Some version of a PAB will probably be adopted by the time I am voted into office. If whatever is established does not have the five pillars above, I will work with citizens to propose legislation that changes whatever is set up to include those pillars.
The creation of a true PAB is not the only thing we must do. We have to transform the institutions we have created that deal with behavioral transgressions. The long-term goal should be to virtually eliminate the need for a police department. The reality is that this will not happen – at least in my lifetime – but that is the direction we should be working toward. This includes a deeper emphasis on prevention and normalizing the use of Restorative Justice practices.
True prevention is not made of programs that try to tell people how to behave, but is changing our society in ways that we know will reduce crime: ending economic inequality, relevant educational practices, and honestly ending systemic racism.
But these things cannot be successful while we have an occupying police force wreaking havoc in our community. We need a real Police Accountability Board, not the one the Mayor is trying to force on us.
I will be at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 15th at 6:30pm to speak to City Council on this. Join me by calling 311 to sign up to speak.