City of Somerville
Massachusetts

Agenda Item
210235
Kept in Committee
Jun 18, 2020 6:00 PM

Calling upon this Council to create a Police Commission and a Community Police Review Agency.

Information

Department:City CouncilSponsors:City Councilor At Large Wilfred N. Mbah, Ward Two City Councilor Jefferson Thomas ("J.T.") Scott, Ward Six City Councilor Lance L. Davis, Ward Three City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, City Councilor at Large Kristen Strezo, City Councilor At Large Mary Jo Rossetti, Ward Seven City Councilor Katjana Ballantyne, Ward Four City Councilor Jesse Clingan, City Councilor At Large William A. White Jr.
Category:ResolutionPurposes:Resolution

Official Text

WHEREAS,              Police violence against Black and Brown Americans is a product of systemic racism including structural failings in the way law enforcement agencies are organized; and

WHEREAS,              Even before the recent killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor by police officers, two-thirds of Americans believed that Black people are treated less fairly by the police than white people; and

WHEREAS,              Only 23% of Americans believe that police “provide fair and accurate information to the public all or most of the time” and only 37% believe police “do a good job protecting people from crime all or most of the time”; and

WHEREAS,              Whether people are satisfied with policing depends heavily on whether they’re satisfied with police oversight; and

WHEREAS,              Chief David Fallon has stated, “having reports of police misconduct investigated by a fellow union member can create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Even when investigations are conducted correctly and without bias, it's understandable that the public might not trust the process,”; and

WHEREAS,              Mayor Curtatone has stated, “we need to bring new voices and perspectives into the oversight and rank and file of the police department,”; and

WHEREAS,              Barbara Attard, former President of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement has stated, “as oversight of law enforcement becomes an integral part of government in the United States, the benefits of oversight are being acknowledged. Those in policing are recognizing that allowing independent oversight and community access to this information leads to increased confidence in the process and the law enforcement”; and

WHEREAS,              Captain Pamela Seyffert of the Sacramento, California Police Department has stated, “although civilian review can be controversial, there are enough positives presented by the successful models that show it to be an essential tool for the future,”; and

WHEREAS,              Two of the four recommendations of Representative Ayanna Pressley’s recent resolution in the House concern oversight:

-              “Efforts to improve oversight and independent investigations to hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable,

-              “Supporting efforts to establishing all-civilian review boards with the authority to investigate incidents of police misconduct to ensure community-level oversight, accountability, and disciplinary action of police officers;” and

WHEREAS,              Representative Pressley’s resolution calls for the adoption of sound and unbiased law enforcement policies at all levels of government that reduce the disparate impact of police brutality and use of force on Black and Brown people and other historically marginalized communities, NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT

RESOLVED,              That this City Council immediately begin preparing legislation that creates both a Police Commission and a Community Police Review Agency by ordinance in Somerville, and that the City Solicitor's Office assist in the drafting of language needed to effect the intentions expressed herein; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED,              That the Police Commission so established shall have the charge of recommending changes to the Somerville Police Department’s (“SPD’s”) policies and procedures, and that any changes of same sought by any source would be subject to the Commission’s approval, and that the Police Commission be invested with subpoena authority, and that review of Police Chief selection such that the Mayor would be required to appoint any new Chief from a list of candidates identified by the Commission, and further that the Commission be empowered to remove a Chief from office for cause; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED,              That the members of the Police Commission would serve 3 year terms, with a two-term limit, and must be Somerville residents, and that no member of either body may be a current police officer, current City employee, former Somerville police officer, or current or former official, employee or representative of a union that represents police officers, and that the Police Commission so established shall have no more than 30% of its standing members be appointed by the Mayor and further that it shall at all times be constituted to contain not less than one Black or Brown person serving as a full Commissioner; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED,              That the Community Police Review Agency so established shall have the charge of independently receiving and reviewing complaints of police misconduct, and that it would be required to investigate complaints involving use of force, in-custody deaths, profiling, incidents and public assemblies, and may engage in other investigations as directed by the Police Commission into other police misconduct, AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED,              That upon completing its investigation of a complaint, the Community Police Review Agency would be required to submit its findings and proposed discipline to the Police Commission and the Chief of Police, at which point the Chief would accept the recommendation or be required to submit separate findings and discipline to the Commission. Final decision on the discipline would in that case be made by a committee of Commission members, and any officer so disciplined would have an opportunity to appeal by filing a grievance in addition to any other remedies allowed by law, AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED,              That the Review Agency and Police Commission so established be allocated enough money and resources so that they can perform their required functions and duties, including at minimum an Agency Director and at least one Agency Investigator for every 80 Somerville Police Department employees. Further, that the City would also be required to allocate enough money for outside counsel to provide independent legal advice to both the Commission and Agency. No current City of Somerville employee could serve simultaneously as staff to the Commission and Agency while serving in any other capacity in the city's employ, nor could any current or former official, employee or representative of a union that represents police officers serve as staff for the Commission or Agency. 

Horowitz, J.M., A. Brown, and K. Cox (2019). “Race in America 2019.” Pew Research Center. Available at https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/04/09/race-in-america-2019/#majorities-of-black-and-white-adults-say-blacks-are-treated-less-fairly-than-whites-in-dealing-with-police-and-by-the-criminal-justice-system <https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/04/09/race-in-america-2019/>

Gecewicz, C. and L. Rainie (2019). “Why Americans Don’t Fully Trust Many Who Hold Positions of Power and Responsibility.” Pew Research Center. Available at <https://www.people-press.org/2019/09/19/why-americans-dont-fully-trust-many-who-hold-positions-of-power-and-responsibility/>

“attitudes toward police accountability was not just the strongest but also the most consistent predictor of police satisfaction” De Angelis, J. and B. Wolf (2016). “Perceived accountability and public attitudes toward local police.” Criminal Justice Studies, 29 (3), p. 247. Available at <https://doi.org/10.1080/1478601X.2016.1158177>.

City of Somerville (2020).

City of Somerville (2020). “Somerville to Officially Declare Systemic Racism a Public Safety and Health Emergency Mayor Curtatone Announces Next Steps in Ongoing Efforts to Provide Just, Unbiased, and Compassionate Community Policing.” Available at <https://www.somervillema.gov/policereform>.

Attard, B. (2010). “Oversight of Law Enforcement is Beneficial and Needed-Both Inside and Out.” Pace Law Review, 30(5). Available at <https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1755&context=plr>

Seyffert, P. (2017). “Can Professional Civilian Oversight Improve Community-Police Relations?” Police Magazine. Available at <https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/can-professional-civilian-oversight-improve-community-police-relations/>.

Meeting History

Jun 11, 2020 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting
draft Draft

Councilor Mbah noted there have been several acts of police brutality against people of color. The Council will evaluate the Police Department budget to support the needs of the community. Councilor Davis thanked Councilor Mbah for his leadership, and supported a Civilian Review Board. Councilor Scott also thanked Councilor Mbah and said the Council will set an example for all communities, letting the voices of the people be heard. Councilor Strezo said the resolution supports the community. Councilor Niedergang requested the Council not vote on the item tonight because it is challenging and controversial. He requested information on how the two Boards would be structured, and urged discussions with the Police Department and the Mayor. Councilor Strezo supported voting on the resolution. Councilor Davis expressed disappointment with Councilor Niedergang, who responded he would vote no if a vote were taken.

RESULT:APPROVED. [10 TO 1]
AYES:Wilfred N. Mbah, Mary Jo Rossetti, Kristen Strezo, William A. White Jr., Matthew McLaughlin, Jefferson Thomas ("J.T.") Scott, Ben Ewen-Campen, Jesse Clingan, Lance L. Davis, Katjana Ballantyne
NAYS:Mark Niedergang
Jun 18, 2020 6:00 PM Video Legislative Matters Committee Committee Meeting
draft Draft

Chair Davis noted that research is being conducted, including interviews with other cities who have Civilian Commissions or Committees, such as Oakland, to develop the best practices for creation of such entities. The Chair read the resolution, which is based on the Oakland model, and noted that the structure will be determined through a community process. He then introduced Ms. Pratt, from Just Us Somerville. Ms. Pratt is also a Somerville resident, and thanked the Committee for hearing the current demands to end racial injustice. Just Us Somerville is a group of residents of color, who began meeting after the death of George Floyd, to address decisions that were made without the input of affected communities of color. The group aims to build the collective voice of people of color in Somerville. The group is advocating for items 210233, 210235, and 210291.

Ms. Pratt noted that as police reform resolutions are crafted at every level of government, it must be asked whether they will change anything. The very foundation of government is built on racist views, and systemic racism has been acknowledged by Mayor Curtatone and others. Trying to reform the Police Department, an inherently racist structure, is putting a band-aid on a wound that requires stitches. Sound and just, unbiased law enforcement policies must be created. Systemic racism is a threat to public health, and legislation must also be created to reform the City's government. Anti-bias, anti-racist, and cultural competency training should also be offered, beginning with elected officials.

Chair Davis emphasized that the message from the Committee is that these voices are heard. The Committee is looking to follow the lead of those in the community. Councilor Ewen-Campen commented that the amount of public engagement and the specific calls to action are inspiring, and the force of public engagement is enabling action. Councilor Clingan asked how certification of police relates to this, and Ms. Pratt noted that many other professions require continuing education, and police should be no different. Chair Davis noted that certification would not substitute for a Civilian Review Commission, but could be a complementary goal. A number of state and federal proposals could inform the City's decisions, but will not be the limit to what the City pursues. Ms. Webber added that the administration supports the legislation at the state level, and the correlation to creation of an Oversight Committee would be complementary. The administration is welcoming to any policing reform.

Councilor Niedergang suggested that the plans for both the use of force policy and creation of a community review agency are well-developed and should be moved on quickly. Chair Davis noted that connecting with other groups and individuals in the community, as well as experts in the field, is important, but agreed that this is important work that should move forward. He also expressed that a forum that can be interactive may be more useful than a public hearing. Councilor McLaughlin added that a listening session would be helpful. Councilor Niedergang agreed that conversations are helpful, but any concerns and objections to the items from the Law and Police Departments should be addressed early in the process, to ensure that suggestions are feasible. Attorney Phillips added that she will be working on item 210291, and Attorney McKenzie will likely be working on 210233 and 210235 as well.

RESULT:KEPT IN COMMITTEE