City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo quickly stopped the proposed changes to the Civilian Police Review Board at Monday’s council meeting.
Five of the six council members seemed willing to change the law governing the review board so that they could appoint members if other agencies failed to do so.
The nine-member review board has struggled with vacancies for years. Usually there are so many vacancies that if even one member doesn’t show up to a meeting, the meeting cannot be legally held. There are currently three vacancies, with another expected soon.
For the past year, the review board has almost always been unable to meet because of that problem, Councilwoman Denise Brucker said.
“I’m afraid to say what level of backlog they must have by now,” she said.
The board reviews complaints against the police and the Police Department’s investigation of those complaints. The checks-and-balances system was designed and requested by members of the community after a series of controversial police actions, and several of the groups instrumental in creating the law were given the authority to designate members of the board.
Perazzo argued that changing that should be the last option.
“Give me 30 days,” she said, vowing to badger agencies until they filled the seats, while also finding interested parties to fill the two seats appointed by the council and the mayor.
“I’ll bring names to the table,” she said. “I’ll make sure we get it there.”
She argued strongly that the council should not choose review board members when an agency fails to make a timely appointment.
“I just don’t want it to end up being a board entirely appointed by the City Council,” she said. “The whole idea of the Police Review Board is to have representatives from the community.”
Council President Margaret King said the council wouldn’t make political appointments to the review board.
“I still see us reaching out,” she said, adding that she asks for recommendations from community groups for the council’s appointment to the review board.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she, too, would be willing to make the appointments if agencies don’t.
But she added she would prefer that didn’t happen.
“It takes away from what the original intent was, which was that the community have a voice at the table,” she said.
Councilwoman Denise Brucker said the current state of affairs hurts the board far more than it would under the proposed change.
“I think it’s really incumbent on us to do something quickly,” she said, adding that the council should have paid more attention to the board’s plight.
“This is an important board and we want it to function,” she said.
But Perazzo said that could be done with regular communication. As chairwoman of the government operations committee, she said she would take responsibility for contacting agencies regularly and making sure they make timely appointments to the review board.
“We’ll just keep it more on our radar,” she said.
She also plans to ask Councilman-elect John Mootooveren to resign early from the review board. He is expected to resign when he is sworn in as a councilman on Jan. 1, but she wants him to resign now so the council can quickly replace him.
Only if all else fails will she consider changing the legislation, she said.
Former member Helga Schroeter, who watched the council debate, was pleased by the decision.
“She’s a doer,” Schroeter said of Perazzo.
She added that she was relieved to hear that “something would be done.” She’s bothered by the number of police complaints piling up at the review board.
“Even if they are minor complaints, they should get an answer,” she said. “I think people deserve that.”