West Point City Council is a little closer to deciding who will be on its Citizens’ Police Review Board and how it will operate.
Council agreed in principal at their work session Thursday to have the board be made up of seven residents. Each council member will appoint one, along with city manager Ed Moon. Members will serve staggered terms up to three years. Members also need to be residents of the city.
“This will help the police department, the people and us (the council),” said Councilwoman Sandra Thornton. “This will solve a lot of things.”
Council voted to create the review board in May as part of a resolution allowing its police department to carry Tasers. The vote came at a time when there were many complaints by residents about the police department. The review board was seen as a way to involve the community and quell complaints.
In a draft memo, the procedures for the committee were outlined, including the course of action for filing complaints. Complaints first will be reviewed by the police chief before going to the board. Complaints may only be filed by persons directly involved in the incident and with firsthand knowledge of the facts. The committee may only review the policies of the police department and not whether the person involved was guilty or innocent, and it cannot discipline officers.
“It can only decide if the department did everything to investigate the complaint,” the memo stated.
Councilman Ben Wilcox, however, said he’s still opposed to the review board itself. A local defense attorney, he said at council’s May 29 work session that it would open the door for his clients and others to file complaints about the police department constantly.
“This is something we don’t need to do,” he said. “It would be like getting four or five people together and telling Joe (Downs, councilman and a doctor) how to practice medicine or telling me how to practice law or telling Judy (Wilkinson, councilwoman and bridal shop owner) how to sell dresses. We hired Chief (Jeffrey) Cato to run the police department. It’s not for us to have someone else tell us how to run the police department.”
The police department already investigates any and all complaints it receives.
But Wilkinson, who has had her own run-ins with Columbus police where her shop is located, said she is for the committee being formed.
“I think we have a great police department and nine times out of 10, when people complain, they come out satisfied,” she said. “But sometimes, individuals in the police department want to protect themselves and the police circle the wagons, or at least it’s perceived that way. This takes it out of political hands.”
Wilkinson was arrested by Columbus police three years ago for serving mimosas – an alcoholic drink – during a reception at her business without a proper permit. Her charges eventually were dropped and the ordinance was changed to allow the practice after a similar review committee formed there.
“I really believe the ordinance was changed because of that Citizen’s Public Safety group,” she said.
No timetable was set Thursday on when council may appoint members and form the committee.