As protesters and citizens groups continue to seek more “accountability” among law enforcement, the Mobile City Council is moving closer to reestablishing a Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Committee that fizzled out in the wake of an officer-involved shooting four years ago.
The committee has been one of the focal points of “Mobile For Us” — a small-but-persistent group of protestors who’ve continued to call for greater transparency in local law enforcement. The group, led by former corrections officer Antonio Moore, has focused greater oversight into the Mobile Police Department (MPD) and its policies and procedures.
It has also advocated for the revival of a police citizens’ advisory committee in Mobile.
Established in 2016, the committee was the result of weeks of deliberation between council members who created a body that could assist the community and give residents a voice in matters pertaining to the MPD without placing an additional bureaucratic burden on the department.
However, with little to no authority over MPD’s actual operations, some of the very people who advocated for the committee lost interest, and the body eventually stopped meeting. During a council meeting Tuesday, President Levon Manzie gave some background into what made the first iteration of the committee a “failure” for the council four years ago.
“The last group was well-intended citizens, but there was a disconnect with the public and internal strife among those selected to serve. You had those who thought the police could do no wrong in any instance, and you had those who thought law enforcement could do no right,” Manzie said. “I believe this new slate of appointments, hopefully, will work better together and more cohesively with the police department in search of the truth. That’s what this is about, the truth. It’s the same reason we pushed so hard for body cameras. Let’s put all the ‘he said, she said’ out of business … play the footage.”
So far, only Councilmen John Williams, Fred Richardson and C.J. Small have appointed members for the second pass at the advisory committee. Others, like Manzie, are still vetting candidates, while Councilman Joel Daves says he still has concerns about the problems that plagued the first attempt.
While he supports the idea behind the committee, Daves said his previous appointee volunteered time to attend meetings that often couldn’t assemble a quorum and were never well attended by the public. He said some other members also refused to do things required by the ordinance that created the committee, like go through an abbreviated version of MPD’s Citizens Academy program.
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she too supports the idea but wants to make sure the people calling for the creation of the committee understand the limitations it will have under the law. Instead of an “advisory committee,” some advocates have pushed for something more akin to a community oversight board that would be able to review MPD files and protocols and would have the authority to issue subpoenas.
Under the ordinance, Rich said that’s not something the committee would be able to do because the authority over the day-to-day operations of MPD rests with the mayor’s office, not the City Council.
“We can’t give them a power that [the law] didn’t give to this body. Subpoena power is not something that board can ever be empowered with,” Rich said. “I think that created some of the angst in what that board was entitled to do.”
While Richardson agreed the committee wouldn’t have the power to issue subpoenas on its own but suggested members of the council could help obtain information from MPD in order to help the committee fulfill its mission. It isn’t immediately clear whether that’s true for all records, especially protected investigative records, which are not considered public records under Alabama law.
Manzie said he’s hoping to submit an appointee for his district at next week’s meeting on Aug. 4, and encouraged his remaining colleagues to do the same. Either way, with a fifth appointment, the committee would have enough to establish a quorum and Manzie said he will be moving the initiative forward.
“Let’s search our souls, search our communities and get new appointees submitted for this next agenda so this can move forward,” he added. “If we have enough for a quorum, we’re going to move forward with what we have, and if somebody doesn’t want to make an appointment, then your community just won’t have representation.”
As the council was conducting its pre-meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, members of “Mobile For Us” staged a protest outside Government Plaza with signs demanding the release of MPD’s written policies and procedures. One sign addressed to the department and Mayor Sandy Stimpson said: “90 days is too long to wait for the information you already have.”
Mobile Public Safety Director James Barber has said the department is fine releasing specific parts of its policies protestors have inquired about — like those pertaining to the use of force and body cameras. However, MPD has been hesitant to release the full 800-page document as it continues to evaluate how other departments have handled similar requests.
Protestors have noted major cities in other states release much more detailed information on their policies and training practices as well as the disciplinary records of individual officers. Other cities in Alabama like Hoover, and to some extent Saraland, have recently released their police department’s written policies in response to probes by the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Mobile received a similar request in 2018 but has yet to provide any documents to the ACLU.
Barber also said that Stimpson recently authorized a review of MPD policies so a lot of what would be turned over today might be outdated within a few months. Organizers with “Mobile for Us” appeared unsatisfied with those answers and said they’ll continue to demonstrate in the coming weeks.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).