The D.C. Council voted yesterday to create a civilian-dominated board to review brutality and misconduct complaints against police officers, capping a 12-year drive by civil liberties activists to take such review power away from the police department itself.
The measure, adopted by an apparently unanimous voice vote after a sometimes angry debate on its details, creates a seven-member body that will hear evidence on complaints against officers filed by citizens and recommend disciplinary action to the chief of police. If the chief rejects or lessens the penalty recommended by the board, he would have to explain his reasons in a report to the major, who could overrule the chief.
Recommendations could range from counseling or reprimanding officers to suspending or firing them. However, another law now requires that officers who began their service on the force prior to last year also must have a hearing before a departmental trial board before they can be fired.
The measure -- sponsored by David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) -- now goes to Major Marion Barry, who is expected to sign it. The measure then is subject to review by Congress. If it becomes law, it will go into effect next Oct. 1, the start of a new fiscal year. Staffing and operation of the board is expected to cost $155,000 the first year.
The board's chairman would be a lawyer appointed by the mayor. Two other members would be named by the mayor, two by the city council, one by the police officers' union and one -- a member of the police department -- would be selected by the chief of police. All ultimately would serve three-year terms.
Rank-and-file police officers opposed the creation of the board, and their union lobbied against it. The measure was strongly supported by the local American Civil Liberties Union, which began campaigning for it in 1968, and by the Gay Activists Alliance. Leaders of both groups were in the council chambers audience yesterday and hailed the council action.
The District of Columbia had a weak advisory review board that heard citizen complaints fromn 1948 until it lapsed in 1973 when then-mayor Walter E. Washington, citing budget problems, failed to fill vacancies in its membership. Since then, complaints have been investigated by both formal and informal procedures within the police department itself.
A statical study conducted by the department last year showed that an average of one complaint was filed by a citizen each day and that 92 percent of all complaints were considered unfounded.
Yesterday's debate centered on an amendment proposed by council member John L. Ray (D-At Large) to reduce the bill's six-month period for filing a complaint after an alleged incident to 30 days. His effort failed by a 7-to-6 vote.
On other matters, the council enacted a bill permitting the city to confiscate long-dormant bank accounts and other abandoned personal property, voted preliminary approval of a D.C. antitrust law and confirmed the mayor's nomination of James E. Clark, acting director of the city Department of Transportation, as an interim member of the Metro board.