Despite alleged incidents of serious police misconduct over the past couple of years, the City Council decided in a 5-2 vote at its Jan. 15 meeting to nix the creation of an official citizen’s police-oversight board.
In a presentation to Council, Asheville Police Chief William Hogan said the issue of citizen oversight is a “bit of a complex topic.” He lobbied against such a board, citing several layers of existing city and independent police oversight and reiterating that state personnel-records laws regarding privacy and other prohibitions would likely render such a board toothless.
The recommendation to maintain the status quo passed on a 5-2 vote, with Council members Brownie Newman and Robin Cape voting against. Both said they had insufficient information from dissenting voices to vote otherwise. Though the group Citizen Awareness Asheville had recently said it would create a board regardless of what the city decided, no members of the group or the general public rose to speak in favor of a city-sanctioned citizens’ board during the discussion — though one woman later in the meeting did rise briefly to say for the record she was in favor of it (see “Who watches the watchers?” Nov. 14, 2007).
One audience member rose in defense of Hogan and the job he has done as police chief. “I would like to know why we need a bunch of civilians watching the police when that’s your job,” Fred English told Council.
Despite the vote, several Council members, including Vice Mayor Jan Davis and Carl Mumpower, both of whom serve on Council’s Public Safety Committee, said more could be done to instill confidence in the police department among the public. Among the steps that might be taken, noted Mumpower, was for the city, the police department and the existing Citizens Police Advisory Committee (which has no oversight authority) to work together and find ways to strengthen the existing citizen-complaint process. Mumpower also suggested that the Public Safety Committee needed to evaluate and possibly strengthen the utility of the existing advisory committee, as well as do a better job of communicating the limitations of citizen oversight under state law. Mumpower also noted the Public Safety Committee should make an effort to meet with groups such as Citizen Awareness Asheville and others “to see how we can better address their issues … and incorporate their concerns into our existing structure.
For the full report on the Council meeting, check out the Jan. 23 issue of Xpress.
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer