A Police Commission Is Coming
But there's plenty of disagreement about its powers
From the February, 2018 issue
In November, a $200,000 outside study recommended that the city expand civilian oversight of the Ann Arbor Police Department, and mayor Christopher Taylor says "I've not heard anybody suggest that it shouldn't happen." But though Taylor expects there will be "some kind of police commission," there's plenty of disagreement about what powers it should have.
The review was prompted in part by the 2014 shooting of a knife-wielding woman by an AAPD officer. The city's Human Rights Commission wants a commission empowered to independently review such encounters, and to hear citizen complaints about police conduct. "I would like to have them be able to investigate," says longtime HRC chair Leslie Stambaugh. And, she says, "We'd like to be involved in policy."
Police chief Jim Baird notes that a civilian group already oversees the police department: city council. But he recognizes "an appetite for some form of citizen involvement. I'm not against it. The more citizens can see behind the curtain and see how we do our job, the more impressed they will be."
Taylor echoes that. "I envision a commission that plays a meaningful role in understanding what the police department does and communicating that to residents," he says. At the same time, "certainly part of a commission's job [is] to serve as a voice for people who are skeptical of law enforcement and to communicate that to the police department."
But Taylor doesn't think the commission "should have an adjudicative role in individual complaints." While it should review how the department handles complaints, he says, he wouldn't want it launching its own investigations: "If the commission becomes unhappy with the judgments made by police administration," he says, "they have to communicate that to the city administrator, mayor, council, and the public."
As for giving the commission a role in policy, he says "it's perfectly proper for them to inquire about policy and learn about policy and push and prod--but not set [it]." He'd also expect members to make a "commitment to learn about the exigencies of law enforcement. I would expect them to have periodic ride-alongs" with officers.
"It will all ultimately be determined by council," Taylor adds. "Council will put an ordinance into effect that describes the commission. That ordinance is going to come to us in draft from staff" after consulting with the police and the city attorney's office." He anticipates that may happen as early as this spring.
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