The city Human Rights Commission on Thursday heard three cops sound off on their concerns about City Hallâ€™s efforts to improve police oversight.
â€œWe have an emergency situation going on in our relations with the community,â€ Assistant Chief Brian Martinek told the commission. â€œWe agree with that. But we arenâ€™t sure if this ordinance is the way to address that problem.â€
As reported last week, City Commissioner Randy Leonard and Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade put an ordinance before City Council to beef up powers at City Hallâ€™s Independent Police Review Division. The changes would give IPR a greater role in police internal investigations and officer discipline.
The emergency ordinance would take effect immediately and comes at a sensitive time for the police bureau, which is under fire from the community for the Jan. 29 shooting of Aaron Campbell and Mondayâ€™s fatal shooting of a homeless man in Hoyt Arboretum.
Last week the City Council delayed a vote on the ordinance, in part to give the Human Rights Commission a chance to weigh in. At tonightâ€™s meeting, IPR Director Mary-Beth Baptista explained the ordinance, and cops on the cityâ€™s Community-Police Relations Committee gave their views.
Martinek said Chief Rosie Sizer could not attend due to illness.
Officer Natasha Haunsperger said many cops question the way the ordinance was rolled out. Police werenâ€™t involved in drafting it, and officers didnâ€™t even know the ordinance existed until it was in the news.
â€œI just feel as many other officers felt â€” the way it was carried out did not really contribute to addressing community tensions, but actually aggravated it,â€ Haunsperger said.
Sgt. Anthony Passadore said police are just as concerned as citizens about deteriorating relations. But he said the current oversight system works and is trusted by officers, and the police bureau has been meeting benchmarks to reduce use of force and citizen complaints.
â€œRight now to call this an emergency (ordinance), at a time when fear is driving every single thing in our community â€” I donâ€™t think itâ€™s appropriate,â€ Passadore said.
Members of the commission had plenty to say as well, especially on community fears toward the police.
â€œYour culture has a gun on its hip. I donâ€™t have one. And that makes a big difference when we try to talk,â€ Commissioner Kathleen Saadat said. â€œIf you forget that, then you forget that this is a culture clash.â€
Martinek said the chiefâ€™s office fears adding another layer of bureaucracy will further slow the bureauâ€™s discipline process. Cops were criticized for taking more than three years to complete an internal investigation into the 2006 death of James Chasse Jr.
Marinek warned of â€œunintended consequencesâ€ from rushing to change the oversight system. He also said making the IPR director an integral part of the bureauâ€™s discipline process would actually diminish her independence.
â€œTo throw the baby out with the bath water really doesnâ€™t make much sense to us,â€ Martinek said.
But Commissioner Donna Maxey told IPRâ€™s Baptista that the fact Baptist is on the city payroll automatically puts her independence in question.
â€œYou canâ€™t be independent if youâ€™re part of the bureaucracy,â€ Maxey said. â€œI applaud what youâ€™re doing, but the fact that you work for the city makes me a little suspicious.â€
Several commissioners said they felt making a recommendation on the ordinance was outside their mission. Instead they voted to tell City Council they see a need for ongoing dialogue with the community about police accountability.
The council will hold its next hearing on the ordinance on March 31 at 6 p.m.