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Charlotte Area

CMPD Citizens Review Board Now Under Review

A board established to review citizen complaints against Charlotte police is now under review itself by the city council. 

The Citizens Review Board in Charlotte was established during a tense time between police and the public.

It was 1997. Just a few years earlier, riots had erupted in Los Angeles following the videotaped police beating of motorist Rodney King. Charlotte had its own turmoil over a series of shootings by police. 

The Citizens Review Board consists of unpaid citizen volunteers who review the most serious complaints against the police - conduct unbecoming of an officer, for example, improper use of force or the shooting of a civilian.  

KareRomanski turned to the board several years ago when she says a CMPD officer, "slammed me on the hood of the car after he spun me around. I'm not resisting there's no reason to hurt me. He still kept with the pressure, putting all his body weight on top of me. There was no reason for it. I'm 4 foot 11. He's 6 foot tall. He could have used one hand if he wanted to restrain me."

Romanski complained to CMPD and then turned to the Citizens Review Board when she learned the officer would not be disciplined for his behavior.  

"There was really no outcome (from the Citizens Review Board)," says Romanski. "They found in the chief's favor."

It shouldn't have been a surprise. Of the 79 cases the Citizens Review Board has heard since 1997, none were decided in favor of the citizen.

An ongoing study by students at the Charlotte School of Law and a subsequent investigation by the Charlotte Observer have now lead the city council to take a closer look at the Citizens Review Board.

Monday night, CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe defended his disciplinary policies before the city council.  He reminded them that the Citizens Review Board is sort of a last resort for citizens unhappy with how the chief decides to discipline an officer.

First the complaint goes to CMPD, and of more than 1,200 such complaints lodged, Monroe says CMPD took the citizen's side in nearly half.

"Over 20,000 hours of active suspensions were issued to officers based on those sustained violations and over 3,900 hours of inactive suspensions," Monroe told the council. "From 2000 to the present over 100 officers have been recommended for termination from the CMPD."

That information seemed to comfort some city council members. But several - and Mayor Anthony Foxx - remain troubled by the standard citizens are required to meet in order for the Citizens Review Board to rule in their favor.

The standard is called "abuse of discretion" and it basically means you have to show the police chief was completely arbitrary in his decision on how to punish or not punish the officer at the center of your complaint. 

"Abuse of discretion seems to be a remarkably high standard to have to meet in order for a case to be overturned," says Foxx. "Because as the record shows, virtually – actually no case – has gotten that far. And it's the standard."

Dozens of citizens and civil rights advocates showed up at the council meeting asking for that standard to be lowered. They also say the Citizens Review Board needs power to investigate cases and subpoena evidence, rather than be limited to CMPD's internal review of the officer's conduct.

The city council instructed its new city manager Ron Carlee to gather more public input and come back with a list of possible options for the Citizens Review Board within three months.