A Better Blue

A Citizen Review Board of Local Police in Syracuse, NY

Police brutality has been at the center of the American conversation in recent years, and it’s encouraging when you find people seeking solutions. In 2011 the Syracuse Common Council passed a local law establishing a citizen review board for the local police force.

The Citizen Review Board (CRB) was established to “ensure an open citizen-controlled process for reviewing grievances involving members of the Syracuse Police Department”. The goals of the review board include public accountability over the power of the local police department, preserving the integrity of the local police department and providing a forum for citizen complaints regarding the police department to be heard and reviewed “fairly and impartially”.

The review board works under the framwork of the National Association of Citizens Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), which is “a non-profit organization that brings together individuals and agencies working to establish or improve oversight of police officers in the United States.”

I recently attended one of the quarterly public meetings to see how the review board worked. The first hour of the meeting consisted of the ten members of the review board members sitting at the front of the room, holding their meeting publicly. I thought this was a great attempt at transparency, though there were only two other people in the audience viewing it with me. The review board was made up of predominately people of color from the community, and each person represented a different committee (i.e. outreach and public education, government relations, police relations).

The board explained that in the past 6 months there have been 83 complaints filed against the police- and nine this month specifically. They had a hefty debate about outreach to communities of immigrant and refugee populations in the city who might not speak English. What was the review board’s responsibility as far as interpreters go? Would they need the interpreters to swear in as well? They held a little mini debate as they worked through this together at the front of the room.

They also spoke about how they were getting a lot of calls from inmates at the jail. There is a separate review board for complaints by inmates about correctional officers at the jail, called the Justice Center Oversight Committee. There was talk about doing more outreach in the school systems, because police officers becoming ever more present at middle schools and high schools in the area has been increasing the likelihood of the “school-to-prison-pipeline”. The age of arrest has been changed so that it is easier to get arrested as well, instead of just having to show up for an appearance.

“We need to begin to focus more on the rights of our young people, as they are having to interact daily with the Syracuse cops.”

The next hour was dedicated to opening up the floor to the public to voice concerns or ask question with each person getting three minutes.

I encourage everyone to find out if you have a citizen review board in your city- and if there is one, get involved. If there isn’t one- start your own.

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