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Deeper Dive: What are citizens review boards? Which local agencies have them?

Posted at 11:18 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-24 23:18:43-04

Following the death of George Floyd we've heard calls for police reform, including demands for local police departments and sheriff's offices to create citizens boards aimed at improving their levels of transparency.

To better understand the topic Fox 4 poke with former police officer and FGCU forensics expert Dave Thomas, to break down the types of boards departments can create.

I learned that there are two main kinds: a citizens advisory board and a citizens review board.

Both are made up of volunteers who meet with law enforcement on a regulated basis.

But Thomas says advisory boards, are more for community contact.

"It usually consists of community leaders, often times minority leaders and business leaders so that they can gauge what the flavor is, what the community is feeling," he said.

Review boards are appointed. They're able look over certain internal affairs complaints and make recommendations to the chief or sheriff about the discipline of that officer or deputy.

"They have the ability to investigate, they are assigned to police and they have the ability to investigate police matters," said Thomas.

And depending on state laws, they can also subpoena those officers for interviews.

Fox 4 also reached out to a number of local agencies to see if they had one of these boards. Three agencies confirmed that they do, three agencies said they don't and we're still waiting to hear back from two others.

One of the "yeses" was from the Naples police department, who has had a review board for 19 years. Board meeting minutes show their votes on several officer discipline cases.

"It's definitely an area of transparency so that the citizens, this small subset of the citizens within the city of naples has an idea of how complaints that are generating by citizens against officers are being handled," said Lt. Bryan McGinn with Naples PD.

One of the "no's" came from Cape Coral police, who had a review board from 2012-2014. But it was disbanded partly by the board members themselves, because there wasn't much for them to do.

"In that two year period they never made one recommendation, there was no suggestions, everything was full transparency and accountability," said David Newlan the Cape Coral police chief.

Chief Newlan says a big part of the reason there weren't many complaint cases for the board to work on, was because the department has been accredited by multiple agencies for years and is held to intense scrutiny.

"Just for national accreditation for law enforcement we have to comply with 459 standards," said Newlan.

The Cape Coral police department does have an advisory council that meets with the chief every few months.

While he does support community councils and advisory boards, Dave thomas says the need for review boards is really a case-by-case basis.

And he says they wouldn't be needed across the country, if more departments focused on transparency in all areas.

"If the police department or sheriff's office would clean up their house and had an office that was fair and then post the outcomes of the investigations so that people could see them, I think that shows transparency," said Thomas.

Here is a look at some of the responses and information we've gathered from local agencies on the topic:

  • Marco Island Police: "The Marco Island Police Department does not have, nor ever had, a citizen's review board or citizens advisory board. I am not aware of any discussion regarding the creation of either."
  • Naples Police: "The City of Naples does have a citizen police review board and it was enacted in 2001. [These] are the current citizens police review board members: Bill Bibb, Joseph Fogg, Linda Black, Rodney Schwasinger and Walter Michaelson."
  • Charlotte County Sheriff: "CCSO does not have a citizens review board. We never did; however, it has been mentioned in discussion with the community and we are considering the option."
  • Cape Coral Police: Had a review board from 2012-2014, but disbanded it due to lack of action.
  • Fort Myers Police: Still waiting on a response.
  • Lee County Sheriff's Office: Still waiting on a response.
  • Punta Gorda Police Department: "We have two groups that would be considered citizen advisory boards. The first is the Chief’s Advisory Council, which is made up of representatives from neighborhoods within the city as well as a few others including the president of the local NAACP chapter and an overall representative who has been involved with city business on an larger scale. They meet on a monthly basis, though they have had to cancel a couple meetings or have met via teleconference this year due to COVID precautions. The second is the Business Advisory Council, made up of owners and representatives from businesses throughout the city. They meet on a quarterly basis, though they too have had to make adjustments due to COVID precautions. The purpose of both of these groups is to ensure that the police department has a forum for direct communication between the Chief of Police and members of the community. The members of these groups both provide input to the Chief (though they do not give direction) and assist in disseminating information back into the community. At meetings we typically provide education to members regarding department functions, law enforcement activities, or other specific topics as requested by the council. The Chief will then bring up topics she would like to discuss with the council and members each have an opportunity to bring up any concerns or issues they would like to discuss. Chief Davis started both of these groups only a few months after taking her position in early 2018."
  • Collier County Sheriff's Office: The CCSO Citizens’ Review Panel is made of 12 people, 7 members of the public and 5 agency members. According to CCSO it's goal is to promote and improve communication between the CCSO and the community. The panel's job is to review all closed internal affairs investigations that involve allegations of unreasonable force, once they are done, the panel will then forward recommendations about the case to the Sheriff. The panel's next meeting is August 5, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.