I have to congratulate Mountain Xpress on the Jan. 23 cover’s front-page juxtaposition of a sheriff’s department plagued by corruption (“Medford released from jail”) with a political establishment unwilling to confront a systemic lack of accountability (“APD Chief: No oversight needed”) paints a vivid picture for your readers.
I am a member of Citizens’ Awareness, the community group launched last November “to ensure proper conduct by law enforcement.” Despite some confusion in the press, Citizens’ Awareness has not petitioned for the creation of a city-authorized police-oversight body. Such an institution would have its hands tied with regards to personnel files and might well find itself unable to disclose the details of its findings to the public. Furthermore, a city-controlled oversight board would lack the independence necessary to objectively investigate criminal wrongdoing, essentially replicating the system we already have in place where government agencies are free to write their own report cards.
No, what Asheville needs is a police-oversight program unrestricted by the antidemocratic laws that shield officials from the light of public scrutiny. This is why Citizens’ Awareness is not seeking privileged access to existing government files. Instead, we will be independently soliciting our own complaints and building our own personnel records. The resulting database of public information will afford the people of Asheville an unprecedented basis on which to exercise their “inherent, sole, and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police thereof,” as established by Article 1, Section 3 of the N.C. Constitution.
Although the support of City Council is not a requirement for successful community-driven oversight, Council could play a positive role by advocating for increased government transparency. The full and timely disclosure of details related to internal misconduct investigations would be a great start.
Citizens’ Awareness meets at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays in the St. James AME Church, 44 Hildebrand St.
— Scott Evans