In 1994, the controversial shooting of Jesse Bogand, a 68-year-old resident of Orange Mound, outraged the citizens of Memphis.This and other similar incidents pushed the Memphis City Council to create a Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), which, according to the City of Memphis website, would be “an independent, non-police Mayoral Agency with … the power to receive, investigate, hear cases, make findings and recommend action on complaints.”
Though seemingly a positive step forward for our city, many have lamented that CLERB has insufficient power to accomplish its assigned tasks.
For instance, CLERB can only hear a case after Memphis Police Department’s (MPD) Internal Affairs (IA) has completed its investigation. Moreover, CLERB has no subpoena powers, and as such, MPD officers’ presence at a CLEB hearing is purely voluntary. More troubling is the fact that the extent of CLERB’s disciplinary power is a non-binding recommendation to MPD.
Last year, it came to light that, CLERB was disbanded by the Wharton administration. This occurred without notice or input of any kind either to the general public or to Memphis City Council. Still, to this day City Council still assigns a liaison to CLERB, and according to council members, continues to allocate funding for CLERB in the city budget. The webpage quoted above is still active on the city website, though the phone number goes to the Memphis Legal Department where it is answered by someone with nothing to do with CLERB. And yet our leaders wonder why the public seems so cynical without faith and trust in the government.
In May of 2013, Memphis City Council unanimously passed a resolution, tasking Memphis United with holding nine public forums, one in each council district, to hear from constituents as to what they envision for the role and function of CLERB in Memphis. Subsequently, Memphis United consolidated feedback with best practices identified by the National Agency for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE.org) has prepared our recommendations for the Council in a report entitled, “Increasing the Effectiveness of the Civilian Law Review Board.”
We are currently seeking to pass an amended ordinance to give the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board the power it needs to provide transparent and accountable oversight of Memphis police.