The newly formed Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council will be at least one member short until a disagreement between appointees and a member of the Mobile City Council over the 2016 ordinance creating the board is rectified.
The City Council-appointed board created to help improve relations between citizens and the Mobile Police Department (MPD) has six of eight members appointed. Only Councilman Joel Daves and Mayor Sandy Stimpson have yet to make appointments to the council.
During a regular meeting Thursday, Sept. 10, Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council members led by Chairman Dr. Raoul Richardson and Vice Chairman Damian Marks urged Daves and Stimpson to appoint members so a full board can begin working.
“We would like to see … We are requesting representation from the mayor and Councilman Joel Daves,” Marks said in the meeting. “We have not received their appointments yet and we’re trying to establish a full board. Our plan is to move forward.”
Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber told board members Stimpson had talked to his prospective appointment in recent days and the choice would be added to an upcoming City Council agenda.
Daves accused City Council colleagues of allowing board members to ignore the 2016 ordinance, which requires each member to attend a six-hour training and participate in a ride-along at least once per year. The District 5 representative said he would not make an appointment to the board until that changed.
“There were some members who did not complete the training and councilors who still let them serve on the board,” Daves said. “If you didn’t complete the training, you can’t serve on the [advisory council].”
Daves called the 2016 ordinance setting up the advisory council a “compromise ordinance” where City Council members didn’t get all they wanted.
“There was a good deal of give or take,” he said. “I’m not going to make an appointment until everyone agrees to adhere to the ordinance or a new ordinance is enacted.”
The training and required annual ride-alongs are important, Daves said, because the board’s goal is to improve the relationship between MPD and citizens, so it’s important to get a feel of things from both perspectives.
“Part of it is that everybody on the board knows what it’s like to be citizens,” he said. “Not everybody knows what it’s like to be a police officer. This was not created to be an oversight commission; it was designed to create a better relationship between citizens and police. The people on it need to know something about what it’s like to be a police officer.”
Daves also blamed colleagues for allowing members of the board to ignore portions of the ordinance creating it.
“If we can’t follow our own ordinances, how can we expect citizens to?” Daves asked.
Councilman Fred Richardson disagreed with Daves, saying requiring a ride-along or training would do nothing to help the police department better understand citizens’ complaints.
“I don’t think it’ll help one bit,” he said. “They need to collect information from the community and take it to someone who can do something about it. They need to take it to [Chief Lawrence Battiste], not a beat cop.”
However, Richardson, who was chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee when plans for an amended ordinance were being discussed, said the group decided to let the police council make suggestions about what would be best for it to operate properly.
“We decided to let them make recommendations to us,” Richardson said. “Let’s let them come back and tell us what would be best for them. Let’s leave them alone.”
In its Thursday meeting, Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council members specifically discussed issues surrounding ride-alongs and training. Vanessa Davis Wright, a former police officer and Richardson appointee, said she participated in a ride-along when the council was first formed in 2016 but didn’t get anything out of it.
“When I rode with the officer there was no interaction with citizens in the community,” she said. “She did not receive any calls.”
Davis Wright also mentioned a police officer is going to be on his or her best behavior when a citizen is on a ride-along.
“They’re not going to get in a negative situation,” she said.
Marks said he’s not against going on ride-alongs, but argued “a lot has transpired” since the killing of George Floyd and “policing has changed.” Marks said he doesn’t feel a ride-along should be mandatory.
Tommie Carlisle, an appointee of Councilwoman Gina Gregory, said he’s been on ride-alongs before and said the practice would be beneficial if members can use that time to talk to citizens as well.
“We don’t want to be a shadow,” he said. “We want to be out front if we can.”
Like Daves, Battiste, who was at the meeting, said he disagreed and felt the ride-alongs and training were important for board members.
“If you guys are going to serve as a conduit between the police and citizens, you need to see it not from only the community’s perspective, but from the police perspective as well,” he said. “You can’t just see it through the lens of the community; you have to see it through the lens of law enforcement.”
Marks said rather than force members to participate in ride-alongs, he’d rather see a different group of officers attend the advisory council meetings each Thursday.
“There will be opportunities to have different conversations with different officers,” he said. “I think that’s a great opportunity.”
Battiste said officers coming to the meetings would be “reluctant” to speak up, especially when the meetings are broadcast publicly.
While nothing was finalized at Thursday’s meeting, Raoul Richardson did implore City Council members to help give the group more resources, like email addresses, or other ways to communicate with the police and one another. He said he didn’t want to use his personal email or cell phone to conduct business.
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