Cape Coral City Council is expected to consider the establishment of a new advisory board on Monday.
As proposed, council would establish a Citizens Police Review Board whose primary purpose would be to "provide an impartial forum to review certain closed departmental investigations."
The seven-member, council-appointed panel would review all closed investigations related to use of deadly force, alleged use of improper force, instances where police actions have resulted in death of serious injury and vehicle pursuits resulting in the same.
The board also would, at its discretion, review complaints received by the police department as well as any issue requested by the chief of police or city manager.
The review panel would not have investigative authority but would render reports on its findings to council, the city manager and the chief along with any related recommendations.
It's an interesting concept and one that is hardly new - Time Magazine weighed in on the pros and cons of such entities in a cover story back in 1965 and the ACLU actually has a model plan for communities looking to establish independent review agencies.
We agree there are some positives and the city succinctly outlines them in the introductory paragraphs of the ordinance set for public hearing: Such boards can build trust and confidence in the local police agency, they provide a venue for hearing community concerns and complaints and they can increase confidence in police accountability.
We're for all of those things, no criticism of the Cape Coral Police Department intended or implied, and agree philosophically with the establishment of such a board, especially as tendered in the ordinance sponsored by Councilmember Bill Deile which mandates specific training for the volunteer board members and limits their role to an advisory capacity.
The issue at hand is less the creation of a Citizens Police Review Board but its implementation - for make no mistake, pick people with an agenda or weasel around the language intended to weed out those with bias and an ax to grind and the potential for liability on the part of the city could be great.
Flip it the other way and the board would lack credibility.
For these reasons, we suggest council take a look at not only the ordinance but at the likely applicant pool and council's own ability to fish out the keepers.
Two-three year terms is a lot to ask with meetings set for once a quarter or more, if so requested. Preparation time could be heavy as closed police investigations can run hundreds of pages. Add in the training, the need to disclose personal finances to serve and the ability to not only examine testimony and evidence but to do so in accordance to state statutes, city personnel policies and contract protections and you're looking for a singular type of dedication and a particular skill set.
That's not necessarily your average volunteer.
By all means, establish a review board, there are some distinct benefits that can be realized.
But don't look at this as just another appointed board.
Otherwise, a year or so down the road residents will be asking, who polices the people who police the police?