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Community at odds over power of Tallahassee's Citizens Review Board

Posted at 5:13 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 18:20:00-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Once in place, Tallahassee's proposed Citizens Review Board would convene after situations like officer-involved-shootings, giving the people a chance to weigh in on department policies.

"We want to have positive community-police relations," said city commissioner Curtis Richardson. "This is one of the steps we're taking in that regard."

Commissioners will finalize a Citizens Review Board at Wednesday's meeting comprised of nine people in the community appointed by commissioners to serve as the city's eyes and ears for police reform.

"An independent Citizen Review Board that can look at those policies and give the police department and the City Commission honest and trustworthy advice on how we can change those policies or include policies that would make the police department more citizen and community-friendly," Richardson said.

The idea came about after the murder of George Floyd when a group of student activists met with city leaders to discuss a change.

"We happened to meet with a number of the student protest leaders right on the corner of Jefferson and Monroe Streets about what they would like to see come out of their protests and activism," said Richardson. "And one of the things they talked about was a Citizens Review Board."

Similarly, the Tallahassee Police Department recently held its first meeting for the Citizens Advisory Committee.

While the review board focuses on policy and procedure the advisory committee focuses on building better communication and relationships between the people and badge.

Last month the CAC held its first meeting. Committee chair Rudy Ferguson said the goal is transparency.

"We are people, all different communities to say, 'We're here to assist law enforcement and the community in bridging the gap,'" Ferguson said. "We're dead set on ensuring the transparency is there."

But others in the community say they're not satisfied with either group.

"We already have organizers in the city who can make demands and suggestions without any political power," said Tesia Lisbon, a community activist with More Than A Name.

Some say they want to see more power put into the hands of the board members. It's the goal city leaders say they have for a Citizen's Review Board.

"One of the things that we are keenly aware of is making this board as independent as possible and giving them the authority that they need to operate and review policies and procedures of the police department so that we can make those operations and procedures more citizen-friendly," Richardson said.

The nine-member appointed board would come together after something such as an officer-involved-shooting to discuss the possible change.

But that wouldn't happen until after a grand jury reviews the case.

Now, community activists say the board wouldn't hold enough power.

"They don't have power," said Delilah Pierre with Tallahassee Community Action Committee. "They don't have any power to do anything. In the bylaws, they report to Reese Goad and Lawrence Revell. They are allowed to make recommendations but no investigations. They can't subpoena people, they can't fire anyone, they have no ability to determine the police officers budget."

Richardson says the reason it doesn't have the power people want is due to what the city commission is allowed to give.

"The elected review board would have to be put on the ballot and approved by the citizens of the city as a charter amendment, and only the legislature can award subpoena authority to the board," Richardson said.

Still, community activists say they plan to push back and offer alternative plans to the review board.

"We want to know tangibly, in action that our lives matter and will be protected.," said Saskiya Fagan, a local activist. "This is the way we do that. In action, in practice, and in our work."

City commissioners meet virtually Wednesday to finalize the ordinance. It goes before the commission for final approval in October.