Charlotte’s current Citizens Review Board (CRB) ordinance provides citizens with assistance, from the Community Relations Community, when they write and file their appeal. However, it does not provide for assistance beyond this point. Citizens are allowed the right to hire an attorney to help them throughout the remainder of the process, but they are on their own if they cannot afford one. This lack of guidance and assistance places the citizen at a tremendous, and seemingly insurmountable, disadvantage throughout the CRB process.
During an April 1, 2013 City Council meeting, Charlotte City Council Member Patrick Cannon suggested that more information regarding the CRB process be posted on the city’s website. This is a start, but it does not go far enough. An explanation of the process also needs to be placed in a location where people would expect to find it. The CRB process suggested by Council Member Cannon is currently found on the city’s Community Relations Committee website and not on the City’s Clerk’s website, which actually mentions the Citizens Review Board. Furthermore, there needs to be accommodations for anyone who is unable to access the internet. At the very least, an explanation of the process should accompany any writing delivered to a citizen at the time that citizen is notified of the police department’s final internal affairs decision.
In a February 17, 2013 Charlotte Observer article, entitled “0-78,” Citizens Review Board attorney Julian Wright acknowledged that people who appear before the board are at a disadvantage. He said, “[t]he police department brings more resources to bear than the citizens.” The article added that most of the citizens don’t have lawyers, whereas the police officers accused of misconduct are represented by CMPD attorneys and internal affairs investigators. This lack of guidance calls the fairness of the CRB process into question and necessitates citizen assistance after an appeal is written and filed. This assistance could easily be offered by an attorney who is kept on a modest retainer or by an Administrative Manager, as suggested by The Charlotte School of Law in its June 4, 2013 Citizens Review Board report. Either way, citizen assistance is crucial to maintaining fairness and a level playing field in the process.
CRB Reform Now has chosen to redraft the Citizens Review Board ordinance with attention given to providing guidance, and possibly representation, to citizen complainants who otherwise cannot afford it. We acknowledge the inadequacies in the current system of information provided to citizens and have included language requiring greater access to CRB process information. We also recognize the need for citizens to no longer be at a disadvantage in the CRB appeal process and request that an attorney be kept on retainer to combat this problem.