Washington City Council tabled Thursday the final reading of an ordinance that would establish a civilian police review board.
Councilman Ken Westcott, who made the motion to table, said he was concerned the ordinance would “lead to unnecessary litigation,” involving Washington’s Fraternal Order of Police union.
“I believe that this council would support a review board,” he said during Thursday evening’s meeting. “However, I feel the responsible course of action is to meet with the FOP and have an agreement between all parties, so that this may move forward without objection.”
Westcott and Mayor Scott Putnam referenced a lawsuit filed by a police union in Morgantown, W.Va., after that city’s council approved a similar ordinance.
“We don’t need a lawsuit right now,” Putnam said.
The president of the FOP in Washington, Matthew Karlowsky, has expressed concerns with the ordinance, including its allowing access to personnel files. The ordinance gives the review board power to subpoena performance evaluations, management files, training records and counseling records. Because those files contain important family, residence and health information, Karlowsky said the subpoena power would need to be negotiated into their union contract.
“We’re not looking to make this review board go away,” Westcott said. “My thought is that right now, we just want to have more dialog with the FOP, so that everybody’s on the same page.”
It’s been a year since Andrew Goudy, president of the Washington chapter of the NAACP, first proposed a civilian review board to council. He was surprised to hear them table the ordinance Thursday.
“I was cautiously optimistic, but we see what happened,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “That’s my question – what now?”
Putnam said he plans to set up a meeting within the next few weeks with Washington’s FOP representatives and Goudy to continue the conversation about how to move forward with the review board.
The six-page ordinance states the review board would be established as “a mechanism for citizen review of allegations and misconduct undertaken by police officers with the city of Washington.” The board would need a vote of at least four members to initiate an investigation into alleged police misconduct incidents involving city police, according to the ordinance.
The plan is for Putnam, Goudy and police Chief Robert Wilson to sit on the board along with seven residents, who would serve a four-year, unpaid term. The resident members would be required to participate in 15 weeks of training through the Pittsburgh Citizen’s Police Academy. Fourteen residents submitted formal applications in April for a seat on the review board.
City resident Cliff Cochran, who has advocated for the review board, called the council’s decision to table “morally wrong and sinful.”
“I keep hearing that they really don’t need it because there are no issues between the Blacks and the police,” Cochran said in an interview after the meeting. “There are issues. And the way it’s set up now, if there’s a problem, you have to come to the police station to fill out a complaint.”
Cochran said people are reasonably uncomfortable filling out a complaint against the police while in the police station. He said even if folks don’t file complaints at the NAACP office, that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues.
“Council doesn’t want to own up to their responsibility,” he said. “We need that review board because there are issues out there, and I’m sure if it was approved today, you would have a lot of people coming and complaining.”