A lawyer for the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police sent a letter to the board of directors on Monday morning, urging the board to vote against the citizens review board ordinance that Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Chief of Police Keith Humphrey presented to directors last Tuesday. In the letter, the FOP argues against the creation of a citizens review board, saying several avenues for police review already exist. It also insists that the citizens review board ordinance does not give “appropriate power” to the board of directors.
To read the full letter, click here.
Chad Cumming, an attorney for the Gill Ragon Owen law firm, writes on behalf of the FOP that there is “no need for a citizens review board in any form,” citing the Internal Affairs department within the Little Rock Police Department, the Civil Service Commission, the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney’s office, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Shooting Review Board as existing examples of police review. The FOP writes that it believes that “demand among some in the public for a CRB reflects a lack of understanding of how much review already occurs.”
Instead of creating another review body that “mirrors the reviews of the foregoing five,” the FOP suggests Little Rock residents would be “better served” by improved access to information about existing review processes. It says “more comprehensible” documents from the Civil Service Commission and better reported results from investigations by Internal Affairs and the prosecutor’s office could help the public understand “how much power” it already has.
If the board of directors still “determines” that a citizens review board is needed, the FOP writes that the structure of the board proposed in the existing ordinance “does not respect the separation of powers inherent in our state and federal constitutions” because it gives too much power to the mayor and not enough to the board of directors.
In the ordinance, the mayor is able to choose the members of the review board and select its chair; the board then reports its findings primarily to the mayor and chief of police. Scott said at last Tuesday’s meeting that directors would have to agree to the mayor’s board appointments, but such oversight is not explicitly written in the ordinance; Scott said the ordinance was written with this fact “understood.” The FOP also takes issue with the fact that the board of directors would not be able to remove members of the review board “for cause,” saying that the proposed structure of the review board “does not respect” the function of the board of directors in city government.
The FOP also shares concern about important details missing from the citizens review board ordinance: It cites the lack of by-laws for the board and says there are not clear limitations on “what the CRB would be authorized to review,” and it says the ordinance lacks “legal guidelines” and standards to determine which initial complaints or review requests “merit a review.” The FOP also says the ordinance does not provide information on when the meetings of the review board would take place or whether such meetings would be open to the public.
Another “significant problem” the FOP finds in the ordinance is the “few jurisdictional or timing limitations” for the citizens review board, which it fears will result in the review board interfering with the investigations of other review bodies. Specifically, it says the “broad scope and public nature” of the review board could mean its findings would be made public during a pending Civil Service Commission finding or Department of Justice investigation.
“In fact, the CRB would be required to conduct a review prior to the [Civil Service Commission] being able to hear an officer’s appeal, directly interfering with an officer’s appeal rights,” the FOP writes.
The FOP is also concerned about the makeup of the citizens review board, saying the ordinance specifically designates spots for an “activist” — the language of the ordinance says one member will be “actively involved in neighborhood issues” and be a “designated representative of the community” — and a member of the business community, which the FOP says goes directly against Department of Justice guidelines for a citizens review board.
“This reflects the current ordinance’s fundamental misunderstanding of what a review body should be: A neutral body that conducts a review to determine the truth,” the FOP writes. “The very purpose of this proposed CRB is to respond to the public. Not only does that negate the very purpose of what any reviewing body should pursue, it will put the public in danger.”
The FOP then writes the “greatest danger” of the proposed citizens review board is that its review of police action is “focused on politics and responding to the public,” saying it fears that creating a board that’s appointed “entirely” by the mayor and reports “solely to a single elected official” results in a “reviewing body that … will frame its reporting on the political needs of that elected official, intentionally or not.”
The FOP ends its comments by again asking the board of directors to vote against the citizens review board ordinance. The board will vote on the ordinance at Tuesday evening’s meeting, and it must receive a majority vote in order to be enacted.