“As we enter the final stretch of this campaign, we need your support more than ever!”
Following a string of incidents in 2012 and 2013 involving police harassment, excessive force, and arrests made while people were filming police, Memphis United assisted individuals involved with filing complaints through Internal Affairs and used this opportunity to document the process for filing complaints against officers, a process which presented numerous barriers that prevent average civilians from filing or seeing the investigation through to the end. Once an Internal Affairs investigation has been completed, unsatisfied complainants are supposed to be able to appeal to the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, created by ordinance of the City Council in 1994 after MPD officers shot and killed a 68 year old resident of Orange Mound.
The board was created as “an independent, non-police Mayoral Agency with…the power to receive, investigate, hear cases, make findings and recommend action on complaints,” but from the start, it was clear that there were obstacles to the board being able to function as intended. Before passage, elments critical to CLERB’s success were removed from the ordinance. Without the power to subpoena documents, records, or additional testimony from officers, and without dedicated staff to conduct dedicated investigations, it quickly became apparent that CLERB ability to investigate complaints was entirely dependent upon the willful cooperation of MPD. Officers would be summoned and without consequence, would refuse to participate. CLERB had trouble obtaining relavant documents and policies to inform their work from the department.
Once complainants were notified of the completion of Internal Affairs’ investigations, members of Memphis United attempted to contact the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board. Calls were made to a number listed on the description of CLERB posted to the City of Memphis website. Voicemails seeking appeal of the complaints before CLERB went unreturned. Open records requests filed to obtain CLERB’s minutes from the past several years revealed something even more troubling-the board hadn’t met to review a complaint since 2011. The board had been quietly disbanded uner the Wharton administration without notice to the public or City Council, a violation of City Ordinance. Once this was brought to the attention of the public by the Memphis United Coalition, the Mayor’s office quickly scrambled to make new appointments, while sending mixed messages to the public, clamining the board was still in existance. While the Mayor’s office was busy making new appointments, Memphis United drafteda resolution which passed unanimously through council, empowering MU to do reseach on national best practices and hold a series of townhalls in each council district to gather public input.
Memphis United spent the next year surveying the public and researching review boards in other cities, and recently delivered their findings to the City Council in the form of a detailed report which was delivered to the full council in February 2015. Based on these findings Memphis United proceeded in drafting an ordinance to amend and strengthen the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, and finally givie the board subpoena power and dedicated staff, among other things. Despite public oposition from MPD and the Police Uniion leadership, In April 2015, MU’s ordinance made it before committee, and was passed to go before the full Council . As with any ordinance, three readings are required before the final vote and ther must be at least 7 votes in favor for it to pass.
CALL TO ACTION
We have recently learned that our final reading is set for Tuesday, July 7th. While we are working hard to nail down the seven votes needed, we have reached a moment in this campaign where public support is more critical than ever. During final reading, the ordinance will be discussed by council, amendments will be taken, etc. The public is invited to pull comment cards, and given two minutes to speak on any issue up for discussion. We need YOU to join and support us at City Hall (125 N Main Street), July 7th, at 3:30PM and help insure the safe passage of an important piece of legislation with more than 20 years in the making.
Individuals can make a big difference NOW by contacting their City Councilpersons and urging them to support Memphis United’s recommendations for a stronger, more just Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board. We have created a simple webased tool at memphisunited.org that allows you to quickly contact all of your City Council people at once–check it out, then get your friends and family to do the same!
Organizations can help support these efforts by drafting formal letters of support to the full Council. You can also assist by encouraging your members to attend Council with us on Tues, July 7th.