Former City Councilman Joel Crosby thought a police review committee he helped revamp last February was up and running.
“To my understanding, they meet periodically,” said Crosby, now a Spokane real estate agent. “There was a whole process that we worked out for them to follow.”
But in fact, the Citizens’ Review Commission - originally called the Citizens Review Panel - hasn’t met in more than a year.
Mayor Jack Geraghty never appointed anyone to the board after a Crosby-led committee overhauled the panel to give it more independence and authority in reviewing complaints against the police department.
Geraghty said last week he will begin seeking people to fill the commission on Monday.
The mayor said he solicited applications for the board several months ago but wasn’t impressed with any of the candidates.
There’s been no hurry to appoint commission members because there haven’t been any pressing complaints since last March, Geraghty said.
“We haven’t had any incident where anyone has come in and asked for a hearing,” he said. “There wasn’t a great deal of pressure, and it just kind of languished.”
In addition, Geraghty said, he’s wanted to allow three new members of the City Council’s public safety committee to get acquainted with their jobs before appointing the review board.
Some people began applying pressure lately.
Councilman Chris Anderson said voters have asked him about the committee’s status for the past four or five months.
“It’s a problem,” said Anderson, a member of the council’s public safety committee. “Either we’re going to have a commission or we’re not going to have a commission. If we’re not, we need to sit down and talk about why.”
Julia Schauble, Spokane representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed.
“I think we’re going to have to write to the mayor and find out why he hasn’t done anything,” Schauble said.
Councilwoman Roberta Greene said she too is curious about the delay.
“I know it’s something that some of us here would like to see pushed along,” said Greene, also a member of the public safety committee.
Spokane police make contact with nearly 1.5 million people per year, said Chief Terry Mangan.
That includes officers talking to people on the telephone or in person, breaking up fights and giving directions.
Officers arrest between 17,000 and 20,000 people annually and give out nearly 25,000 traffic citations.
The department receives about 120 complaints against officers each year.
About one-fifth of those require some corrective action against an officer, which can include discipline or counseling.
Since last spring, the police internal affairs unit and Mangan have handled all complaints.
People unsatisfied with the way Mangan and internal affairs resolved their conflicts could complain to the City Council or file a lawsuit.
That’s what prompted many people to begin demanding an independent citizens review board in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The City Council formed the Citizens Review Panel in 1992 after public outcry for such a board in the wake of the Rodney King case in Los Angeles.
The panel was intended to be an appeals board where people who didn’t like the outcome of a police investigation into their complaints could go for further review.
The committee had met for less than a year when critics - including the American Civil Liberties Union - began assailing it as toothless and without focus.
Critics complained that Mangan was allowed to appoint four people to the 11-member board. The way the committee was set up, eight members had to agree to pursue a complaint.
Mangan also had the power to decide which complaints were forwarded to the committee, and the amount of documentation members could see was limited.
Under increasing pressure in 1994, Geraghty agreed to restructure the panel and appointed Crosby’s committee.
The committee made several substantial changes, including the revocation of Mangan’s power to appoint anyone to the board, and allowing the panel to request complete investigation reports about complaints.
In February 1995, Schauble called the overhaul a step in the right direction. “It’s definitely better than the old one,” Schauble said.
Resident Patsy Dunn, who felt police mishandled her assault complaint in 1993, concurred.
Dunn, who was one of the few people who took a complaint to the original panel, said the new commission’s makeup sounds good. She said the old panel was weighted in favor of the police.
“It was kind of a second punishment to go before those people,” Dunn said. “It was very discouraging.”
Mangan said he is glad the mayor is finally appointing commission members.
He and several other police officers spent a lot of time and effort helping to restructure the committee, the chief said, and have been wondering when it would be up and running.
“We periodically asked, ‘Gee, when is this thing going to be cranked up?”’ Mangan said. “We’ve been surprised that it hasn’t been done earlier.”
The chief still will decide which complaints are forwarded to the commission. Mangan will determine if a complaint is a question of police procedure or misconduct.
Only misconduct complaints that weren’t resolved to the citizen’s satisfaction would go to the commission.
Schauble said that’s not the best system.
“We’ve always had concerns that it’s a very weak board without any real authority, even now,” she said.
But Schauble added that a weak commission is better than no commission at all.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: POLICING THE COPS The seven-member Citizens’ Review Commission will review complaints of police misconduct forwarded by Chief Terry Mangan. The committee will be made up of a retired police officer, a retired judge or attorney and five other Spokane residents. All members must have lived in the city for at least four years and are picked by the mayor.