Mobile’s newly reformed Police Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC) convened for the first time Wednesday in a public meeting focusing more on introductions and housekeeping than establishing a plan to carry out its core mission.
As Lagniappe has reported, PCAC was established by the Mobile City Council in 2016 after an officer shot and killed 19-year-old Michael Moore but only held a few, sparsely attended meetings before disbanding altogether. In the wake of recent protests calling for greater police accountability and transparency, the group was re-established with new members appointed by each council member.
A list of the current members is listed below:
During the new group’s first meeting Wednesday, members discussed mostly procedural matters including their requirements under the Alabama Open Meetings Act and Roberts Rules of Order — both of which will govern how their future meetings are conducted. Raoul Richardson was elected to serve as the chairman, Damian Marks as vice-chairman and Vanessa Davis Wright as secretary.
Under the 2016 ordinance that created the group, the broad purpose of PCAC is to “promote the concept that citizens, communities, and the police have a common goal” in the “maintenance of law and order, the reduction of crime and the protection of the community” overall.
Among other objectives, the document indicates PCAC should “promote and encourage open communication and cooperation between police and citizens,” capture and relay the community’s views on police services and tactics and serve as a liaison between the police and citizens.
Last month, the Mobile City Council’s Public Safety Committee met to discuss revising the ordinance but ultimately decided to allow the members to convene and weigh-in for themselves on what changes need to be made to the ordinance that will guide the group’s activities.
On Wednesday, Councilman Fred Richardson said the group should focus on identifying its purpose before making recommendations on how the ordinance could be changed. By law, any changes to the ordinance would have to be submitted to the city council for approval.
“As you read that ordinance, make sure the first thing you do is have an understanding of your mission — what it is that we want you to do — and then look at how that ordinance can help you carry that out,” Richardson said. “We don’t need anything in the ordinance that’s going to take away from your ability to carry out that mission.”
However, exactly what the PCAC’s mission will be is something that remains unclear at this point.
It was initially hoped members could iron out some of their objectives during the first meeting on Wednesday but instead, most of their time was dedicated to policies and procedures. One thing that was made clear early on was that the group wanted to be as transparent as possible.
Members have already asked the city whether PCAC can establish a dedicated webpage or social media account to easily share documents and information about meetings and activities.
Few members of the public attended the initial meeting in person, though others were able to watch via Livestream. Some who did attend were able to ask questions of members, including Tiffany Trotter — one of the organizers of the “Mobile For Us” group that has called for greater transparency and accountability among police in Mobile over the last several months.
Trotter encouraged the members of the committee to remain engaged with the community and to take their positions of the PCAC seriously. She also expressed concern that the first meeting of the group without any real indication of how they plan to engage with the community.
“I just don’t want to see this turn out like last time where we have these ministers and these docile people sitting on boards just because of their professional experience,” Trotter said. “You need to actually have the teeth to make changes. Don’t just come to these meetings and sit.”
“This is your second chance. Don’t mess it up,” she added.
Exactly what “teeth” a body like the PCAC can have still hasn’t been sorted out legally.
When it was first established in 2016, the role of the police and citizens advisory committee was a point of contention as city councilors looked to create a group that could give residents a stronger voice on issues that involve police without placing an additional bureaucratic burden on officers.
Instead of an “advisory committee,” some activists — including Mobile for Us — have pushed for something more akin to community oversight boards some cities across the United States have established. Those boards can review files that aren’t available to the public, issue subpoenas for records and make recommendations for disciplinary actions and internal policy changes.
There’s been no indication that PCAC would have anywhere near that kind of authority over the practices at MPD. Its authority appears to be more in-line with advisory boards set up in cities like Huntsville and being considered in others like Prichard. Those bodies serve as more a bridge between police and citizens than an additional layer of oversight of police conduct.
The group is also limited by the powers of its creator, the Mobile City Council. The authority over the day-to-day operations of MPD rests with the Mayor’s Sandy Stimpson’s office, not the council. Previously, Councilman Richardson has suggested the PCAC could come to the City Council if it needs records from MPD to do its job, but others have questioned the legality of that.
Stimpson has yet to appoint a member to the PCAC, though Public Safety Director James Barber and MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste did represent the administration at Wednesday’s meeting.
For the time being, PCAC members have tasked themselves with reviewing the ordinance and identifying ways it might need to be changed. While members initially discussed holding monthly public meetings, Marks suggested convening weekly until some of the initial procedural hurdles have been cleared and the group can actually start working.
“I’m open to meeting once a week until we get established. I’d like to do whatever it takes to get us going because, by the time we review this [ordinance] and come back, that’s another month or at least a couple of weeks that we haven’t really done anything,” Marks said. “I think, just to get us off on the right foot and get us up and going, we can meet a little more frequently at least initially.”
Members agreed to meet every Thursday for the time being. The next scheduled meeting is set for 4 p.m., Sept. 10, in the city council’s conference room on the ninth floor of Government Plaza.
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