Wichitans sound off on need for new citizen review board

Published On: Aug 29 2014 09:47:46 PM CDT   Updated On: Aug 29 2014 10:21:46 PM CDT

It was a hot topic in Thursday night's "No Ferguson Here" forum, the need for a citizen review board that can hold the police department accountable during investigations.

Wichita currently has a group of citizen called "City Manager's Review Board" that was formed in 2010. It was put together to review allegations of excessive use of force, racial profiling and other matters of community concern, according to the government's website.

"The purpose of the board, my understanding was, we were suppose to conduct any open meetings where people have complaints and wanted to address those," said member David Robbins. "Initially we've been holding meetings on a regular basis just for an educational purpose."

Robbins is one of nine selected by City Manager Robert Layton, with input from Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and City Council members, to be a part of the board.

"We've not had any formal sessions where we were asked to do that [review a case]," said Robbins. "That's at the call of the city manager and so far he's made the determination that it's not been necessary."

City Manager Robert Layton said the reason the board hasn't reviewed any cases in the last four years is because there haven't been any complaints filed until recently.

"They've been involved in training, they've looked at aggregated data, they've not been brought in on a case," said Layton. "We have a few pending that we do need them to review."

Layton said sometimes what's misunderstood about the group is that it's power is limited.

"Their power is limited to making recommendations to the manager mostly on policy, not as much on the case," he said. "So if they find some things in the review that they have some concerns about, it's not that different action will be taken in the enforcement, instead they'll recommend policy change that we consider in the police department and city council if necessary."

Layton was on the panel of Thursday night's discussion and knows that isn't exactly what the people want.

"They want to be able to delve down deeply in the case and we have to recognize that there are so many competing interests in this and you also have a judicial review process," he said. "How do you balance a review board, if that's what were to come out of this, with the courts system and the review of the case and preparing that case for the court. It's a complicated issue and it's one that I think is going to take lots of discussion."

He said between now and December 31st the city is starting an organizational assessment. It will use the feedback received from Thursday night's meeting, but will also assess operations, policies, community relations and issues that are a concern to the community and then will determine what the best tool is to deal with those concerns.

"I'm not  coming in with any preconceived notions, I don't know that the process we currently have is the best," he said. "If it isn't the City Manager's Review Board, is there some other process that's necessary for folks to feel their interests are represented and to rebuild that trust with our police department."

Another major talking point Thursday night was body cameras for police officers. Many said that would also help create accountability for the police department. Layton said having all police officers wear cameras might actually mean no more need of a review board.

"This whole notion of an independent board with subpena powers and some of the things that were asked last [Thursday] night, I don't know how relevant that will all be once we have cameras in place," said Layton. "The idea is to have an independent record of what happens and I think that will go a long way to building trust in the community and then we can talk about what the best review process is going forward."

Mayor Carl Brewer said Thursday night he wants to see all police officer with body cameras by the end of the year. Layton said that may not be possible.

"It's most realistic to say that by the end of the year we'll have deployed more cameras and we'll be in the process of maybe a phased implementation," he said. "Some of it's financial, but some o fit is just the practical aspects of getting everyone trained so they know how to use the cameras properly."