Midland City Council is looking to establish a citizen police review board that the city says would allow citizens to share concerns as well as bring more accountability to Midland’s police department.
Before Tuesday’s regularly-scheduled city council meeting, the city manager’s office briefed council members on the proposed review board, including details such as the board’s responsibilities, administrative considerations, procedures, and potential concerns.
Being “advisory in nature with a special focus on policy,” the duties of the board would be to gather community concerns through a complaint process; recommend policy changes/improvements to Midland Police Department; and advise city council on policies, practices, and operations. As with other municipal boards, the members would be appointed by city council members and likely serve for a single, three-year term. No prior law enforcement or legal experience is necessary, although city officials did mention that having at least one board member with relevant experience is preferred.
Yet while the board appointments will mirror that of Midland’s other municipal boards, it goes without saying that the matters handled by this board carry much greater implications. Also discussed were concerns to keep in mind when forming it, such as false reporting issues, conflicts of interest, and confidentiality of sensitive information.
Midland, however, isn’t the first to pioneer such an idea. Citizen police review boards exist in a number of cities around Texas under a myriad of titles, including the Police Monitor Citizen Review Panel in Austin, the Chief’s Advisory Action Board in San Antonio, the Citizen Police Review Board in Dallas, and the Independent Police Oversight Board in Houston.
The role, scope, and power of each one varies greatly. On one side of the spectrum, Houston’s IPOB has been criticized for its lack of transparency and effectiveness as the 21-member board is required to operate in secrecy and can only investigate cases referred by HPD’s Internal Affairs Unit. Given the IPOB does not have the authority to subpoena witnesses or receive complaints from the public, investigations are not always thorough.
On the other hand, Austin’s citizen review panel is often praised for its transparency and effectiveness. It is one of the only police oversight arms in the state that reports to the city, rather than the police department. According to Restore Justice USA, the board has full access to related case files, including those of Internal Affairs and the Special Investigation Unit, despite not being an entity of APD. The group also “publishes a bi-annual comprehensive report on complaints against APD, and immediately posts officer’s disciplinary suspension documents once they are signed by the chief.”
Midland’s citizen police review board is still in its early stages and, based on Tuesday’s presentation, there are still details to sift through. Regardless, the timing could not be more crucial – not only given the recent debacle with former Midland Police Chief Steve Henry, but the distrust seen on a national level between law enforcement and the communities they serve.