More on the police accountability legislation

The Council had its first briefing on the draft legislation on police accountability that is headed its way. Plus, this afternoon I had a chance to talk with Council member M. Lorena Gonzalez, who chairs the committee where the bill will be deliberated.

See this post from yesterday for background.

In this morning’s briefing, Amy Tsai of the Council’s central staff recapped the history of the police reform effort, and set up the task in front of the Council members now: take an unfinished bill, the result of many years of discussion with community stakeholders and of intense negotiations between the mayor, SPD, the CPC, the DOJ, and police labor representatives, and turn it into model legislation for police reform and accountability.

The conversation then turned to some of the issues that the Council will need to wrestle with, including:

  • The responsibilities of the three main entities: the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), the Community Policing Commission (CPC), and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
  • How those three entities related to each other: where they have independent authority, and where they oversee and/or review each other.

Judge Robart also left them several issues to explore. One key one was whether the CPC should continue to have police officers as members. The Department of Justice, and the current CPC, are in favor of including police officers as they believe it informs better decision making. But this morning Gonzalez said that on the study trip that she and Council member Burgess took to New York City last week, they heard from many who thought it was critical to not have law enforcement representation on a body that is intended to represent the community; it should rather be an “insulated space” for the community to have a voice. One complication: the current consent decree requires that the CPC have police officers, and if the Council chooses otherwise it will need to negotiate an amendment to the consent decree with the DOJ.

Robart also left up to the Council’s determination whether the CPC should have a role in reviewing the OIG.

Gonzalez told her colleagues this morning that she believes the goal of this legislative process is not just about putting an oversight and disciplinary structure in place, but also about establishing community trust. To that end, she intends to make sure the system gives the community “a real voice.”

Gonzalez also told me that she thinks the Council deliberative process will be a combination of looking at the approximately twenty five issues where the Mayor’s draft gives various options, and other issues that they want to open up. She believes that reporting will be one of those issues: between the OPA, the CPC, and the OIG, how are things reported, and exactly what those reporting obligations entail.

She also suggested that they may take a look at whether SPD should use a disciplinary matrix, to create a predictable, progressive and uniform guide for dispensing discipline.

Gonzalez is planning for seven hearings in her GESCNA committee, beginning on February 8th and including two evening public hearings. But she also believes that in order to build the community’s trust in the outcome, she will need to do a “big public education campaign to help the public understand it” and to encourage their timely and well-informed input. She intends to work with trusted community leaders to bring the conversation out into the community. “I have worked in this area for ten years, I am a subject matter expert, and I have personal and family experience with biased policing,” Gonzalez said, “but this isn’t something that only one person can work on. It’s going to take trusted members of the community to help them understand, and help me to understand what the community is saying.”