March 25th, 2010 | by JAMES PITKIN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, City Hall, Cops and Courts

Rights Commission Hears Police Concerns on Leonard's Effort to Boost Oversight

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The city Human Rights Commission on Thursday heard three cops sound off on their concerns about City Hall's efforts to improve police oversight.

"We have an emergency situation going on in our relations with the community," Assistant Chief Brian Martinek told the commission. "We agree with that. But we aren't sure if this ordinance is the way to address that problem."

As reported last week, City Commissioner Randy Leonard and Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade put an ordinance before City Council to beef up powers at City Hall's Independent Police Review Division. The changes would give IPR a greater role in police internal investigations and officer discipline.

The emergency ordinance would take effect immediately and comes at a sensitive time for the police bureau, which is under fire from the community for the Jan. 29 shooting of Aaron Campbell and Monday's fatal shooting of Jack Dale Collins, a homeless man, in Hoyt Arboretum.

Last week the City Council delayed a vote on the ordinance, in part to give the Human Rights Commission a chance to weigh in. At tonight's meeting, IPR Director Mary-Beth Baptista explained the ordinance, and cops on the city's Community-Police Relations Committee gave their views.

Martinek said Chief Rosie Sizer could not attend due to illness.

Officer Natasha Haunsperger said many cops question the way the ordinance was rolled out. Police weren't involved in drafting it, and officers didn't even know the ordinance existed until it was in the news.

"I just feel as many other officers felt — the way it was carried out did not really contribute to addressing community tensions, but actually aggravated it," Haunsperger said.

Sgt. Anthony Passadore said police are just as concerned as citizens about deteriorating relations. But he said the current oversight system works and is trusted by officers, and the police bureau has been meeting benchmarks to reduce use of force and citizen complaints.

"Right now to call this an emergency (ordinance), at a time when fear is driving every single thing in our community — I don't think it's appropriate," Passadore said.

Members of the commission had plenty to say as well, especially on community fears toward the police.

"Your culture has a gun on its hip. I don't have one. And that makes a big difference when we try to talk," Commissioner Kathleen Saadat said. "If you forget that, then you forget that this is a culture clash."

Martinek said the chief's office fears adding another layer of bureaucracy will further slow the bureau's discipline process. Cops were criticized for taking more than three years to complete an internal investigation into the 2006 death of James Chasse Jr.

Marinek warned of "unintended consequences" from rushing to change the oversight system. He also said making the IPR director an integral part of the bureau's discipline process would actually diminish her independence.

“To throw the baby out with the bath water really doesn't make much sense to us," Martinek said.

But Commissioner Donna Maxey told IPR's Baptista that the fact Baptist is on the city payroll automatically puts her independence in question.

"You can't be independent if you're part of the bureaucracy," Maxey said. "I applaud what you're doing, but the fact that you work for the city makes me a little suspicious."

Several commissioners said they felt making a recommendation on the ordinance was outside their mission. Instead they voted to tell City Council they see a need for ongoing dialogue with the community about police accountability.

The council will hold its next hearing on the ordinance on March 31 at 6 p.m.
 
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