In response to NAACP complaints, Bradenton council to consider citizens review board for police

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Meet the members of Bradenton's City Council

In response to complaints from the head of the local NAACP, The Bradenton City Council will meet next week to discuss if a citizen review board for the police department would be a good fit for the community.

The workshop to discuss the possibility of such a board will be held Wednesday, June 19.

The vote to hold a workshop on the topic came after comments from Manatee County NAACP President Rodney Jones, who has attended multiple city council meetings to raise allegations of racial profiling against the police department.

Bradenton police have repeatedly denied the allegations brought forward by Jones.

Councilman Harold Byrd Jr., who represents Ward 5, suggested council look at or explore the possibility of citizens review board.

Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff said Byrd’s idea sounded like an “excellent suggestion.” He also continued to suggest the council start a process of organizing a city charter review committee, an idea he has brought up in past meetings.

Byrd noted that he didn’t want the review board to look at complaints against police only, but also include how things within the department are done in order to strengthen community engagement with police.

There are approximately 200 entities similar to those discussed Wednesday, according to Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan, who requested to be notified if she needed to begin looking into such a review board.

Bevan said it might be “a solution without a problem.”

After Wednesday’s meeting, Bevan said her department is open and transparent but does not believe a structured board is necessary.

“I will say I think we do an excellent job of policing ourselves and everything we do is open for public review,” Bevan said.

It is not exactly clear yet what the board’s responsibilities could or would be, outside of that it would operate separately of the existing Internal Affairs division of the police department.

A March 2001 report by National Institute of Justice, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, describes nine different approaches to citizen oversight of police departments.

“The most active citizen oversight boards investigate allegations of police misconduct and recommend actions to the chief or sheriff. Other citizen boards review the findings of internal police investigations and recommend that the chief or sheriff approve or reject the findings. In still others, an auditor investigates the process by which the police or sheriff’s department accept or investigate complaints and reports to the department and the public on the thoroughness and fairness of the process.”

Ward 1 Gene Gallo said he would not support a citizen review board for just one specific city department. Rather, Gallo said he believes to be fair and honest to the community, that if the police department were to get such a board, every city department, including commissioners, should get one too.

“If it’s one department, I won’t support it,” Gallo said. “It should be all or none. Bottom line.”

Disagreeing, Roff pointed out citizens can review the commissioners every four years with a chance to vote them from office.

Bill Sanders, councilman for Ward 4, said he wants an oversight function but would prefer one run by the city council rather than citizens. That way, if citizens don’t like the direction of the board, the councilmen can be voted out of office during the next election.

“I’ve witnessed citizen review boards and they cause police departments a headache,” Sanders said.

Sanders also echoed Roff’s call for a charter review. He said many cities have mandates that require charter reviews every five to 10 years. Bradenton’s charter has been in place since 1903.

Ward 2 Councilman Gene Brown was not in attendance for Wednesday’s meeting.

The city of Tampa has a Citizens Review Board for their police department that consists of a panel of 11 volunteer citizens — nine of whom are voting members with two alternates — that review completed disciplinary cases among other “issues of importance or interest.” The board reports findings to the police chief and may make recommendations for possible policy changes. The members on the board serve staggered four-year terms and must successfully complete the police department’s Citizens Academy.

Councilmen agreed there would likely be several similar workshops to discuss a citizen review board for Bradenton.

In Wednesday’s meeting, council also asked the city’s attorney Scott Rudacille to review the city charter for clarification on the mayor and his or her role as police commissioner.

The city charter in Section 8 states the mayor “shall with the consent of council appoint a chief of police and shall organize and appoint such additional police force as shall be necessary to insure peace and good order of the city and the observance of law within the municipal limits ...”

In Section 7, the charter states a chief of police “shall be appointed by the mayor and his appointment confirmed by the city council. He shall hold office at the will of the mayor and receive such compensation as the council may fix by ordinance or resolution. It shall be his duty to execute process issued by municipal authority, to aid in the enforcement of order and to arrest offenders against the city ordinances. He shall have control of the police force, subject to the commands of the mayor. He shall execute the commands of the council while in session. He shall perform such further duties as may be directed by ordinance or resolution of the city council.”