Sponsored by… another bad idea in Chapel Hill

Concerning the ongoing saga of establishing a citizen panel to oversee the Chapel Hill Police department (which I wrote about back in March):

The Herald Sun has seen the light and written a pitch-perfect editorial on the consideration (below). Now it finally comes out that the real story is a bunch of whiners with nothing better to do but parade before public officials (what we all suspected to begin with). Shame on the Chapel Hill Council for taking this to the next level (legislative interference).

 Give them a voice? Always. Relinquish your power to make a decision?

What did we elect you for?

Citizen panel not a good idea

Published: May 6, 2009

What seemed like a sterling idea to Chapel Hill Town Council members in their headlong rush to muddy the hierarchy of police oversight is fizzling fast, and for good reason, in the state House of Representatives. Let’s rewind.

Town Council was approached by a small coterie of people with personal grievances against and wariness of the Chapel Hill Police Department. The petitioners apparently believed the Police Department was not nice to them when making arrests for bad behavior during public protests. One protest that got out of hand was at the town’s Army recruiting office. Another was during a sit-in at U.S. Rep. David Price’s office when constituents disenchanted with the congressman’s Iraq War funding votes refused to leave the office.

The malcontents claimed the arrests were intended to cast a chilling effect over their free speech rights. They convinced the Town Council that the only logical remedy to police officers conducting routine law enforcement activities in compliance with standard policies when someone breaks the law was to create a civilian review board with the authority to investigate the officers. That would show them who’s boss.

Amazingly, council members bought into that idea. They heartily endorsed the odd abdication of their elected powers to hold city employees accountable and sought state legislation to create the review panel.

Of course, there were several problems. Aside from a handful of protesters who couldn’t swallow the tonic brewed of their own making, there was no trail of heinous offenses by the police. There was no pattern of abuse so foul that it shocked the senses. By rushing to get a bill introduced into the General Assembly to create a civilian review board, the council members sent a most unfortunate message to its thin blue line — “We lack confidence in you.”

Police Chief Brian Curran rightly worries such a scenario will cause officers to constantly look over their shoulders, that may hesitate or fail to act decisively, according to their training, when faced with some situations for fear that a citizen tribunal may convict them of poor sportsmanship. The risk of harm to the officer and to others is evident in such a situation.

As it stands, the Police Department has a grievance procedure through which citizens can, and do, file complaints against police. Those rise and fall on their merits. Nobody has offered evidence that the internal system has not functioned properly. And the bill that the town sought is getting nowhere fast in the House, where cooler heads see the inherent potential damage and are seeing to it that it doesn’t come to pass.

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