Open Letter to CHA City Council

Follow the Community for Effective Oversight of the CPD

Recent high profile cases of police brutality in Chattanooga have once again highlighted the unaccountability of the Chattanooga Police Department (CPD), officers and administration. On February 5th, 2019, members of CCJ attended a City Council Strategy Session discussing civilian oversight of the CPD. During this session, Councilperson Henderson stated that “this would be a professional effort and not an activist one.” CCJ would like to remind him, as well as other Councilmembers, that it was consistent pressure from community ‘activists’ that forced the City Council to take action towards police accountability in the first place.

Currently the council is trying to fast-track their own effort that will seemingly reaffirm or tweek the existing and ineffective Administrative Review Committee. Furthermore, while the City Council and City staff play catch up on looking at different models of civilian oversight and figuring out what is and isn’t possible according to city and state law, community organizations and “activists” have already been studying different models and looking at legal aspects for years. Community members have affirmed the need for independent civilian oversight at dozens of meetings, assemblies, and events convened by CCJ across the city over the last several years. At our recent MLK Week event on the topic, there was broad support and excitement about a community-led effort to implement independent oversight. CCJ asks: what makes the City Council’s hurried effort more professional than community organizations who have decades of experience working for police accountability?

CCJ has been studying different models, and have been advised by other cities, and we know what is necessary to ensure that a proposed board is both independent and effective. To have true accountability, without any conflict of interest, a Civilian Oversight Board (COB) should have the following characteristics:

  • It cannot have any members of law enforcement, or family members of law enforcement, serving on the board.
  • Neither the Chief of Police or the Police Department at large may have any facilitative or participatory role within the COB.
  • Board members of the COB must be selected by the community, and not merely appointed by the city council or the mayor.
  • It must have the ability to subpoena information and officers as a part of it’s investigatory powers.
  • It must have the ability to amend the policies, procedures, and the priorities of the police department.
  • Resources for the board member’s salary, staff, operational expenses, and training of the COB, must be reallocated from the existing police budget.

Any model without these elements will fail to provide meaningful change to the systems of policing in our city, and ultimately be rejected by the community.

CCJ hopes to unite around pushing back the State legislature’s latest attempt to undermine the democratic rights of communities throughout Tennessee. Many Republican legislators are continuing their pattern of pre-empting progressive legislation by attempting to outlaw critical pieces of community-led reforms. Right now, Tennessee legislators are pursuing ways to strip community oversight boards of subpoena power and the ability to ensure the representation of community members directly impacted by police abuse. (Read more here)

It is hypocrisy that Republican legislators who cry foul about federal interventions at the state level prioritize their own political agendas at the local level to undermine the self-determination of communities within their constituency. Representative Yusuf Hakeem proposes more police diversity training from his position in the state legislature, as if more than a decade of the same old tired reform has not clearly failed to bring real results during his many years as a Councilmember. CCJ calls upon the Chattanooga City Council to publicly oppose the despicable efforts of Tennessee legislators to strip COBs across the state of the elements that make them effective. If state legislators like Rep. Hakeem are serious about fighting back against police brutality, they will publicly pledge to vote “no” on House Bill 658.

Follow the community’s lead: commit to effective independent oversight and fight back against anti-democratic state preemption.