Reynoldsburg considers civilian police review board

KELLEY YOUMAN
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ThisWeek group

Reynoldsburg City Council is expected to weigh the creation of a civilian police-review board this fall.

Draft legislation discussed by council during a July 27 work session says the city "feels that it is important to maintain public safety and public confidence in law enforcement that allegations of misconduct against the public are being thoroughly investigated and evaluated by an independent board."

Council recessed in August but is expected to formally consider legislation to create the board when regular meetings resume this month.

Under the proposal, the review board would have the power to receive, cause investigation of and recommend resolutions for any filed complaints alleging discriminatory conduct by officers and non-sworn employees of the Reynoldsburg Division of Police, regardless of their duty status, when such discriminatory conduct is directed toward any person who is not a Division of Police employee.

Officials said the proposal is an effort to promote transparency and not in reaction to any specific incidents or complaints.

"This is not in reaction to any concerns about how our police department acts in the community or is received in the community," City Attorney Chris Shook said.

He said the draft legislation originally included language giving the board the ability to investigate complaints about use of force, but in consultation with other community law directors and the police union, the scope was narrowed to stay more consistent with the contract between Reynoldsburg and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Under the proposal, discriminatory conduct is defined as discrimination or bias directed toward any person on the basis of that person's race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin, disability, ancestry, familial status or military status.

The review board would meet publicly to hold hearings on complaints, which would be heard by the board after an internal investigation by the police department.

Nine volunteer board members would serve two-year terms; one person would come from each of the city's four wards and another five members would be nominated by the mayor. At least one of the nine members must be a practicing attorney; one must have a law-enforcement background; and at least two members must be minorities.

All board members would be confirmed by City Council and "would be required to participate in additional training through what we expect to be a Reynoldsburg civilian police academy," Shook said.

The academy would help board members better understand the jobs of law enforcement and likely would include a "ride-along" with working police officers, he said.

According to the proposal, complaints would first need to be filed with the police department and be investigated by its internal affairs unit.

If the person filing the complaint is not satisfied with the outcome of that investigation, a complaint could be filed with the board for further review.

The board would discuss the alleged incident and the evidence -- including body-camera footage, interviews and police policies -- in executive session.

That would be followed by a public vote to decide complaints through one of six outcomes: sustained, sustained in part, sustained for a violation not based on original complaint, exonerated, unfounded and insufficient evidence.

A majority vote of the board would be required to determine the outcome, according to the draft legislation.

The review board would not make recommendations about possible discipline if the allegations are sustained; instead, a summary report would detail why the board chose the outcome it did and why it might differ from what the police department found. The review board also would indicate whether the matter was referred to the police chief or mayor.

During the July 27 work session, several council members voiced support for the proposal.

"We are engaging our community while standing in partnership and shoulder to shoulder with our police force because they are important partners in our community and we respect them," Ward 4 Councilwoman Meredith Lawson-Rowe said. "We must also hear our community.

"This is a time to have the tough conversation and say what someone else may be thinking, in terms of racial equity and discrimination," she said. "Just because someone in our community has not experienced racism or ... experienced what it feels like to ride down the street minding your own business and be pulled over for a reason that someone else may not be pulled over (for).

"This is important, and I am grateful that we are having the conversation. We have to meet each other where we are so that we understand what it's like to be in someone else's shoes.

"I just wanted to put that out there to make sure that our community knows that we are in this together; in order for us to be better together, we must understand each other's path" Lawson-Rowe said.

Officials from the FOP Capital City Lodge No. 9, which represents Reynoldsburg officers, have met with city representatives. Both sides said discussions have been amicable.

Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of Capital City Lodge No. 9, said the union's main concern is the collective-bargaining agreement that is in place be followed.

"The bottom line is, as long as the contract is being followed, they can implement what they want," Simpson said. "We'll educate our members about it because there is anxiety surrounding these things, but they've been transparent about what the process will be and that's all we can ask for."

Shook said he expects the legislation to go through some changes before it is presented to council for a first reading this month.

The proposal is online at tinyurl.com/y6kf-6o45.

Council's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, at City Hall, 7232 E. Main St.

The Columbus Dispatch reporter Bethany Bruner contributed to this story.

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