Policing the police

Citing excesses and instances of misconduct by local law enforcement, the activist group Citizens Awareness Asheville has formed a citizen’s police-review board, a “Copwatch” program and a telephone hotline to act on community concerns.

Standing on the steps of City Hall on Nov. 14 with other members of the group, CAA spokesperson Gene Hampton said that the organizing effort has become necessary. “We are a group of community citizens who have become outraged by the escalation of police misconduct, harassment and brutality in recent years,” Hampton said. “We have no single political or religious belief; what we share is the belief that citizen participation is crucial to ensuring proper conduct by the Asheville Police Department.”

While Hampton said the group realizes that “the police chief is accountable to the city manager and the city manager to City Council in theory, there is no quality-management system in place to assure accountability to the city manager or to City Council, and more importantly, to the city of Asheville.”

The board will have five members, one each from the city’s North, South, East, West and Central law-enforcement districts. As a board separate from the city, it will not have access to personnel records. Hampton said that the board will work hand-in-hand with the newly minted Copwatch program, where trained observers record and monitor police behavior, pursuing legal action when there is evidence of misconduct.

“That will provide all the information we need to proceed with suit or other action via the attorney general of North Carolina’s office or the Justice Department,” Hampton said.

CAA has also established a hotline (398-4817) for people to report police misconduct or to add themselves to the list of program participants.

In the future, said group member Rob Close, there will also be a second number that people can call should they need immediate help. The hotline will record callers’ messages, Close noted, which a computer will convert to text messages that will be sent automatically to all of the Copwatch program’s trained volunteers.

Training for the program is pending. “We need people to go through official [Copwatch] training and we have the American Civil Liberties Union helping us in that,” Close said. “We have a lot of people signed up, but we haven’t had our first training session yet.”

Member David Williams later told Xpress that the new program “isn’t about beating up the on the cops. We want them to do their job. We need them to do their job, but you get watched in every job. There’s not a job in the world that will just let you do what you want.”

CAA organizer Adrienne Peterson took the occasion to criticize many of Asheville’s media outlets for not attending the conference.

“I think it’s telling when you invite the media to something this important and many of them don’t show up,” she said. “They’re lacking this thought process if they didn’t see that this was important enough to show up for. We’re going to do this with or without anyone else. We’re not seeking permission, but we would like some recognition.”

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