Citizens should have voice in review board

The “most provocative prompt,” as Champaign council member Michael La Due called it, to stimulate discussion about a citizen police review board has been the controversy, anger, confusion, fear and frustration that followed the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington. The citizens of Champaign have been rallying for a citizen police review board, and for good reason. Now is a critical time for Champaign City Council members to decide that citizens should have a platform to voice their concerns about the police department.

Since 2008, when Laurel Prussing, Urbana’s mayor, first created a citizen police review board to provide a “fair and independent process for the review of citizen complaints concerning sworn police officers,” the board has been operating well. One year after the board’s establishment, no appeals have yet been issued. Aside from that, only eight complaints have been made and only two of those resulted in Police Chief Mike Bily intervening to correct behavior. While Urbana’s review board is only one year old, their process, which welcomes civilian comment and input, appears to be working. Champaign, on the other hand, does not have a citizen police review board and is in dire need of one.

Not only should citizens have the right to voice their concerns of their city’s police department, but the city should provide a venue for healthy discussions and dialogue between the police department and civilians. There can too often be a disconnect between the two, which creates the worst kind of concern; that which comes from the unknown. Ultimately, citizens in each city need to be informed and should be able to police the government, which ought to work for the community’s best interest.

The Urbana Civilian Police Review Board’s purpose is not to discipline police officers, but for citizens on the board to review complaints that civilians submit relating to the behavior of how investigations were handled. The seven citizens on the review board were all appointed by Prussing and have gone through extensive training by multiple attorneys. After a citizen makes a complaint about police department behavior, the complaint is cataloged, and the police chief then assigns a member of the command staff to conduct an internal investigation and notifies the review board at the same time. Once the internal investigation is done, the police chief reviews the information and determines whether the complaint was valid.

By allowing law-abiding citizens to hear appeals from citizens who are dissatisfied by rulings of the police chief, the citizen police review board allows for the community to be a part of how the police department behaves. A review board allows for community outreach to be accomplished successfully.

When citizens question how their police department works, the only way they can be put at ease is to voice their concerns, analyze complaints and resolve the issues. The Champaign City Council should reconsider their decision to further delay the decision of whether to appoint citizens to comprise a police review board.