Statement on Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) Reforms
On May 7th, 2019, the Chattanooga City Council will have the first reading of an ordinance to create a Police Advisory and Review Committee. In CCJ’s open letter to the City Council, sent earlier this year, there is a clear explanation of our recommended criteria for gaining true accountability with an effective and independent civilian oversight board. The proposed Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC), which will amend city codes Part II, chapter 16, sections 16-59 through 16-66, does not match the recommendations from CCJ and the community. Based on years of research and support from various Civilian Oversight Boards, as well as the multitude of community assemblies and meetings organized by CCJ over the last decade, we have developed the following criteria for an effective civilian oversight board in Chattanooga:
- It must have the ability to amend the policies, procedures, and the priorities of the police department.
- It cannot have any members of law enforcement, or family members of law enforcement, serving on the board.
- Board members of the COB must be selected by the community, and not merely appointed by the city council or the mayor.
- Neither the Chief of Police or the Police Department at large may have any facilitative or participatory role within the COB.
- Resources for the board member’s salary, staff, operational expenses, and training of the COB, must be reallocated from the existing police budget.
- It must have the ability to subpoena information and officers as a part of its investigatory powers.
The Council is merely proposing to modify the appearance of the existing review committee. Just like the current Administrative Review Committee (ARC), which was created in 1999, the PARC will only be able to make recommendations to the Chief of Police. There is no process of holding the CPD accountable for addressing such recommendations, and this committee does not have the power to compel the Police Department to change policies or procedures. This ordinance will bring no fundamental changes to the current system. The proposed committee is in no way independent, and it allows the police to continue policing themselves. According to sections 16-63 subsection (a) The Chair of the PARC will submit all complaints directly to Internal Affairs. Although the PARC would be headed by a civilian that is elected from within the board, as opposed to being headed by the Assistant Chief of Police, the proposed ordinance simply adds an additional bureaucratic step to the internal affairs process and in no way changes the relationship of power between community and police.
The members of this proposed committee will be appointed by the City Council, and there is no requirement that these appointees must live in the respective districts of the council person who is appointing them (section 16-61, a-b). By allowing City Council members to choose their appointees from among any of the districts, including persons with police background or affiliation, this ordinance undermines the democratic principles that are essential for any form of oversight to be effective. The Council’s proposed committee has an extremely limited ability to investigate wrongdoings within the police department. While the PARC can ask the council to subpoena witnesses, according to section 16-64 subsection (b) it can only access information on its own which is available through an open records request; information that anyone in the public can already access (according to the Tennessee Open Records Act, which is not always honored). Members of the PARC will be expected to dedicate a considerable amount of time and capacity to serve on the committee, and none of the members will receive any compensation for their time; committee members will essentially be providing the police department with free labor.
From the requirement that members must have a background in “[serving] the citizens of Chattanooga for at least ten years” to the requirement that members must be registered voters (16-61 subsection a), this ordinance is clearly making the review committee inaccessible to young people, disenfranchised formerly incarcerated community members, and the entire working class. We need these folks, who are among the most impacted by police misconduct, to be the ones serving on a civilian oversight board. Not only should the members be directly impacted, but they deserve salaries that come from a reallocation of police budget funds.
The training and education provided for the committee members, in the proposed PARC ordinance, comes from the Chief of Police. Members will be asked to “complete the Citizen’s Police Academy course offered by the Chattanooga Police Department, and other training as deemed appropriate by the Chief of Police.” (16-61 subsection e) This form of indoctrination into police culture does not prepare community members for the critical insight they will need while investigating civil and human rights violations as well as protections. CCJ believes that members of a civilian oversight board should receive training from civil rights and defense attorneys, as well as experienced COB members from other cities. Members of a civilian oversight board should not be required to be trained by the Police Academy, because they’re not becoming police officers, however, members should be allowed to observe any police training that they feel will help them carry out their duties.
In conclusion, the Police Advisory Review Committee does not give us community accountability of the police. It’s going to take grassroots campaign organizing, such as the people’s victory demonstrated in Nashville, to build an independent civilian oversight board that centers directly impacted folks. We ask that anyone who is interested in organizing to win an independent civilian oversight board join CCJ, along with grassroots and faith-based organizations across Chattanooga, as we continue the fight to gain community control of the police together.