Half-Baked: Civilian Oversight for Chapel Hill Police

At it’s Monday, March 9th  meeting Chapel Hill Town Council agreed to request legislative authority to disclose police personnel information to the public, the first step on the road to establishing a civilian oversight panel for Chapel Hill Police. 

Civilian review boards for law enforcement are not necessarily a bad idea – Durham, Greensboro and Wilmington have them; and I have certainly lobbied for them for police in Quebec.  But I do question the motives of those seeking civilian review of the CHPD.  A Herald-Sun editorial makes the point:
Apparently, the current outcry for citizen oversight spurs from two incidents of protest – one at an Army recruitment center and the other at a local Burger King – in which area seniors accused police of rash conduct. 
Local civil rights attorney, Al McSurley lays the blame squarely at the police department: 
“That arrest was just totally bogus,” said McSurely. “These young guys they hire, these rookies, have no sense of the history of Chapel Hill.”

Sure, law enforcement should always have a firm grasp on the cultural temperature of a community, but I don’t believe young officers should be beholden to Chapel Hill’s proud history of civil disobedience; their job is to enforce the law. 

It is also discomforting to think that the public should have access to personnel files. I don’t relish the idea of any officer second guessing themselves in a crisis situation because they are preoccupied with the thought of citizen repercussions. Why is the release of personnel files even necessary? Can’t their be oversight without this disclosure? For me, I actually like the model now employed by the Surete du Quebec: you submit your complaint to the police ethics board which is housed in the Ministry of Public Security – the same agency that oversees the police, the board investigates in conjunction with Internal Affairs, within 30 days you get your response. Yes, in  the 1990s there was public outcry for civilian oversight of the SQ, but face it, that was never gonna happen. So this is the next best thing.
At the March 9th meeting Councilman Matt Czaskowski asked the question largely missing from the 45 minutes of discussion on this matter:
“What is the basis of need?”

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