The Mobile City Council on Tuesday again delayed a vote on a citizen review board for the Mobile Police Department, as a second, similar ordinance appeared on Tuesday meeting’s agenda.
The second ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Joel Daves and Council President Gina Gregory, mirrors the language in the original ordinance, but also borrows from a list of conditions Mayor Sandy Stimpson wanted to have placed in the legislation for it to gain his support.
Although the creation of a citizen review board for MPD was initially introduced and eventually dropped in 2014, the shooting death of 19-year-old Michael Moore reignited calls for the board. The initial ordinance, sponsored by councilmen Fred Richardson, Levon Manzie and C.J. Small, was originally held over for a month and the council held two committee meetings on the subject.
Both of the dueling ordinances were held over for two weeks. A meeting of the council’s public safety committee was called for Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 2 p.m. on the ninth floor of Government Plaza. Councilors hope the extra time will allow them to reach a compromise.
While the ordinance sponsored by Manzie, Richardson and Small would allow each of the seven councilors one appointment each to the board, the version sponsored by Daves and Gregory would also allow Stimpson seven appointments to the board.
Both boards would be called the Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council; neither would have any oversight capabilities. Both, according to the ordinances, would promote open dialogue between the MPD and promote better police and citizen interactions.
Gregory’s and Daves’ proposal would also promote active participation among community action groups and neighborhood associations.
In line with Stimpson’s suggestions, the proposal from Gregory and Daves would require appointees to participate in a modified MPD Citizens’ Academy class and the entire board would terminate on Jan. 1, 2021.
During a pre-conference meeting, councilors seemed eager to compromise on the issue but were also cautious. Manzie said he had no objection to holding the issue over, given that each of the councilors would come into the discussion with an open mind. He said if no one’s opinion could be swayed, he didn’t see the point of holding them over.
“I’m willing to do it if compromise is possible,” he said.
Richardson said he, too, was hopeful of a compromise because, as he said, “I don’t know of an issue in District 1 more serious than this.”
Daves also said that it would be his preference to hold both items over until a compromise is reached.
Makinde A. Gbolahan was one of many Mobile residents to speak during the regular meeting on the council’s creation. While some have argued that a citizen review board is redundant because of a community panel selected by Chief James Barber, Gbolahan disagrees. He is a member of Barber’s panel and said the work they do is different from what the proposed board would do.
Gbolahan said the panel’s work focuses mainly on the MPD’s Second Chance or Else program and doesn’t delve into questions of police misconduct.
“Review board’s work,” he said. “They help citizens reluctant to file complaints against the police, file those complaints.”
MPD Cpl. John Young returned to the ceremonial courtroom Tuesday to speak in opposition to the formation of either board. He reiterated the MPD does not have a “tolerated” or “systemic” problem with racism among police officers. Of the 486 sworn MPD officers, Young said 322 are white and 144 are black. In 2015, the MPD received 211,355 calls for service. Of those calls, only 55 resulted in complaints from citizens, he said. Of those 55 complaints, which resulted in 104 “areas of concern,” only two referenced racial bias. Young and City Attorney Ricardo Woods both said both of those complaints were found to be baseless.
Young said if MPD had a systematic problem with racist police, the number of complaints — especially given the city’s black population and the number of white officers —should be higher.
Richardson said the number of complaints is low because citizens distrust the police.
“If we have citizens who distrust the police, they’re not calling to complain,” he said.
Small, who agreed with Richardson, asked the administration to provide a report to the council by its Aug. 16 committee meeting on the number of complaints going back five years.
Shunta Daugherty, Moore’s mother, spoke in favor of a review board. She said Stimpson and councilors should have appointments to the board, but members should come from the community too.
“It shouldn’t oversee the police,” she said. “There should be accountability …”
Spring Hill College sociology and criminology professor Dr. Demetrius Semien said the chief’s panel could be made stronger with the addition of appointees from Stimpson and councilors. He further praised the panel, telling councilors it has been a model nationwide.
“It’s not the best model yet, but we can make it the best model,” Semien said.
Re-forming a committee that never met
Gregory confirmed Tuesday that the citizens’ parks and recreation committee has not met since its formation last year because it has lacked a quorum of members. Gregory said some councilors have expressed a desire to appoint new people to the board. She said the committee will be re-formed once the new appointments are made.
The council also voted to accept a $315,000 contract with All-South Subcontractors for roof replacement at the Moorer branch of the Mobile Public Library. The council also approved a $23,000 contract with Dell Consulting for security design improvements on the City of Mobile, Alabama Cruise Terminal.