A deeply divided City Council voted Friday to replace a civilian agency that investigates police misconduct with a new city office made up of police and civilians.
During a lengthy and at times passionate debate, the council adopted several amendments and then approved the new governmental structure on an 8 to 5 vote that supporters said would create better dialogue between police and the public, and critics said would gut civilian oversight.
Under the measure, the new Office of Police Conduct Review will be staffed by two civilian and seven police investigators who will be assigned to probe the public’s complaints of police misconduct. A hearing panel of two civilians and two police officers will weigh the investigative evidence and make a recommendation to the police chief whether or not discipline of an officer is warranted. The decision to discipline will continue to rest with the police chief.
The council defeated Council Member Cam Gordon's amendment to add another civilian to the hearing panel, which would have given civilians a 3-2 edge over police. A second amendment by Gordon that would have given a complainant the right to choose whether they wanted a civilian or police investigator, was itself amended and passed.
Under the additional amendment, introduced by Council Member Gary Schiff, a complainant can ask for a civilian or police investigator, but it is in the discretion of the office to determine who will be assigned to the case. A final amendment by Gordon passed unanimously. It will, in effect, bar the details of the investigation from being shared with others in the police department.
The new investigative unit will be up and running by the end of the year if not sooner, said Velma Korbel, Civil Rights Department director and one of the architects of the new structure.
The council’s action also creates a Police Conduct Oversight Commission that will evaluate the process and police policies. There was no debate over that aspect of the proposal.