Mobile City Council members have given the revamped Police Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC) the green light to begin meeting as they continue to work out policy details about how the group will actually operate.
Last week, during a public safety committee meeting to discuss the ordinance establishing PCAC, several council members said they’d like to see the group get started on its mission of building trust between citizens and the Mobile Police Department (MPD) as soon as possible.
As Lagniappe previously reported, PCAC was established in 2016 after an officer shot and killed 19-year-old Michael Moore. The committee was the result of weeks of deliberation between council members who wanted to create a body that could assist the community and give residents a voice in matters pertaining to MPD without placing an additional bureaucratic burden on officers.
Council President Levon Manzie recently said the first iteration of PCAC was doomed by members’ inability to come together and form “a cohesive unit” and the lack of public interest. The group disbanded after only a handful of sparsely attended meetings four years ago.
“You had a real pro-community faction and a real pro-police faction when what we needed were persons who had the sensibility to look at both perspectives,” Manzie said. “We were also not able to effectively connect the public with this previous group.”
Manzie recommended giving the new group access to a city-branded Facebook page or official city email addresses to help legitimize the group and give the community an easy and familiar way to connect with its members.
Other council members agreed more needed to be done to highlight the newly revived group, which grew out of recent discussions about local police and community relations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year.
PCAC members are appointed by each of the seven city councilors and an eighth is seated by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. So far, Manzie has joined council members Fred Richardson, C.J. Small, John Williams and Gina Gregory in making an appointment. Stimpson and council members Joel Daves and Bess Rich have yet to do so.
As of today, the advisory committee members are Vanessa Davis Wright (Richardson), Dorothy Weaver (Manzie), Damian Marks (Small), Dr. Raoul Richardson (Williams) and Tommie Carlisle (Gregory). Rich and Daves said last week their appointments would be forthcoming soon.
During the meeting, Richardson raised concerns about mandated requirements for PCAC members, which also proved to be contentious when the first group was assembled in 2016.
To have members better understand what it’s like to be a police officer, they’re required to participate in a ridealong with an MPD officer, complete a six-hour orientation course and meet with the chief of police quarterly. Some of the original members either didn’t or refused to meet those requirements four years ago, and they’ve come up again recently.
As the council has continued to have background discussions about the ordinance underwriting PCAC, the members themselves have argued getting lost in the policy details won’t serve the public as well as actually assembling the group and getting its work started.
While no firm meeting has been set, the members of the council’s public safety committee seemed to agree the best course of action, for now, is to allow the five members — and three others once they’re appointed — to begin meeting and to start building a relationship.
Williams argued the members of the group are capable of charting their own path forward and then returning to the council in “30 to 60 days” with any recommendations for how the ordinance might need to be tweaked “to give them the ability to be successful.”
Last week, Williams’ appointee, Dr. Raoul Richardson, emphasized the importance of committee members having the means to communicate with the leadership at MPD, arguing that without equal investment from citizens and police, PCAC could end up being little more than lip service.
“People always talk about building bridges, but nobody ever crosses those bridges to break bread with the person on the other side,” he said. “At some point, there’s got to be a mechanism in place, which I think we can put together, that lets us identify where we’ve heard a problem, how to address the problem and when it needs to be communicated to the department.”
Behind the scenes, city officials have been working to set up an initial meeting of the current PCAC members, who should be able to move forward on their own from there. It’s still a bit early to say what the exact role of the committee might be, but Richardson told Lagniappe he isn’t interested in being a part of a group of “talking heads” or one that’s ultimately “ineffectual.”
“If we look at what’s going on nationally, we’re fortunate to not have the same severity of issues confronting us, though we certainly have challenges,” Richardson said. “These chaotic, tragic events hit on a personal level and then people pay more attention, but my reason for being a part of this and wanting it to move forward quickly is that I don’t want this to filter out with the news cycle. We need to get to the root cause and effect of what we’re dealing with.”
Marks, who also sat in on last week’s meeting, agreed it would be better to get started sooner rather than later. He commended city officials for proactively looking for ways to improve police and community relations, but said he wants to get to work while these issues are fresh and the parties involved are still willing to come to the table. It’s worth noting, since last week’s council meeting, officer-involved shootings in Louisiana and Wisconsin have reignited protests in a number of cities.
“We can sit up here all day and say what we need to do, but there are things that can happen in our community that can change the entire atmosphere with a moment’s notice,” Marks said. “The more we drag this thing out, the more we prolong us getting together and getting to work.”
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