Mayor Anthony A. Williams is expected within two weeks to name his choices for the new D.C. Citizen Complaint Review Board, which is to provide the city for the first time in years with a formal mechanism for investigating claims of police misconduct, a spokeswoman said this week.
The mayor's choice of four members for the board--which is charged with looking into such complaints as use of excessive force, harassment and discrimination--will cap a painstaking effort by city officials, civil rights leaders and others to create a formal means of citizen review of District police. The fifth board member will be named by D.C. police.
The last such body, the D.C. Civilian Complaint Review Board, was abolished in 1995, and there hasn't been an institutional means for outside investigation of police misconduct since then.
Set up in 1980, the old board quickly became swamped by cases. It relied on members themselves to review the complaints, and the members quickly fell behind. The D.C. Council voted in 1992 to triple the board's size, as the backlog reached about 1,000 cases. But three years later the council abolished the board, using the savings to fund extra police patrols.
The old board left a backlog of 770 unresolved cases--many of which had languished for years. City officials said they hope not to repeat its history.
The D.C. law creating the new board took effect in March. It allows the new board's executive director to mediate citizen-police disputes, gives the board power to subpoena police testimony, and relies on a pool of hearing examiners--similar to a grand jury--to investigate complaints of police misconduct.
"This board will oversee the operations and will not have to hear the cases," said Marie Drissel, the mayor's special assistant for boards and commissions. "The board itself will not have to have the expertise in law enforcement."
The old board also had a tense relationship with 1980s police chiefs Maurice T. Turner Jr. and Isaac Fulwood Jr. The current chief, Charles H. Ramsey, said in an interview that he is willing to work with the new board.
Prospects for the new panel are being viewed with guarded optimism in some significant key sectors. Its success will rely ultimately on its credibility with all parties concerned, as much as on the structural changes, said people involved in setting it up.
"It's not a one-man show," said Ronald E. Hampton, who was in the D.C. police department until 1994 and now is executive director of the National Black Police Association. "It's a five-man show: the police department, the unions, police officers, the CCRB and the citizens. They all have to agree they want this. They all have to participate in the process and cooperate."
Civil rights leaders from the city were consulted in the creation of the board as well as the police department and helped Drissel to narrow the pool of applicants for the board to 12, from which Williams will pick four.
"Nobody can say 'I didn't get my two cents in,' " said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who pushed legislation creating the board through the council last October, when he was Judiciary Committee chairman.
In addition to harassment, excessive or unnecessary force and discrimination, the board is to investigate claims such as include demeaning language and retaliation for filing a complaint. Complaints must be filed within 45 days of an alleged incident.
The executive director, whom the board members will name, may dismiss the complaint, refer it to mediation or assign members of a pool of hearing examiners--who will be paid per case--to evaluate its merits. If a complaint is found valid, the board will refer it to the police chief for disciplinary action.
The House Appropriations committee that oversees D.C. affairs already has approved $1.2 million to pay for the board's staff--including seven investigators--for its first year.
The board's success or failure will depend on whom the mayor selects, said Gary W. Hankins, a former chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee, the union that represents D.C. police. "The appointing authority has got to be very careful and considerate in their selections," he said.
Civil rights leaders in the District said the board is badly needed.
Mark Thompson, chairman of the metropolitan police and criminal justice review task force of the NAACP's D.C. branch, said that fears of police brutality and racial profiling, primarily in traffic stops, were the biggest civil rights concerns of black D.C. residents when it comes to the police.
Police Chief Ramsey has opened greater ties to the gay and lesbian community but a "fair and trusted" review board is still needed, said Rick Rosendall, a past president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. "It's not serving the interests of the police to have the entire force tarnished by the bad reputation of a few," he said.
The mayor's four nominees must be confirmed by the D.C. Council. Drissel said the board will be hearing cases by October.
"It's like we've put the car together," Evans said. "Now we'll drive it down the street and see if it works."