Chattanooga City Council approves creation of police oversight board; member selection process to begin

Chattanooga City Council approves creation of police oversight board; member selection process to begin

May 14th, 2019 by Rosana Hughes in Breaking News

Updated at 9:56 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, with more information.

The city of Chattanooga has approved the creation of a citizen oversight board for the city's police department.

Council members unanimously voted in favor of the ordinance during its Tuesday night meeting.

The nine-member board, called the Police Advisory and Review Committee, will be a civilian investigative entity to review cases of police misconduct.

Its purpose, according to the ordinance, is to "strengthen the relationship" between citizens and police and to "assure timely, fair and objective review of citizen complaints while protecting the individual rights of police officers."

Discussions on forming an oversight board began earlier this year after a series of allegations of police brutality and misconduct, including rapesexual battery and the filmed beating of a 37-year-old man during a traffic stop in March 2018.

After the Times Free Press published a video of Chattanooga police officer Benjamin Piazza punching and cursing the apparently compliant 37-year-old man, police Chief David Roddy appeared before the City Council to answer questions about the department's policies and asked the council for help in developing a better administrative review committee.

"I'm looking forward to getting started quickly," Councilman Russell Gilbert, one of the ordinance's sponsors, said following Tuesday night's council meeting.

The ordinance won't go into effect until two weeks have passed, but in the meantime, council members are to begin picking who they want to serve on the committee, Gilbert said. Nominees will need to show a track record of serving the people of Chattanooga for at least 10 years and will have to be confirmed by a majority council vote.

The committee chairperson will review all internal affairs investigations upon their completion and determine whether the investigation is complete. The chairperson then will report the investigation to the committee at its meeting.

The committee then will review the internal investigations' findings and, by a majority vote, it will either:

» Ask the police chief to conduct a further investigation, or ask the committee chairperson to do so if the chief refuses, or

» Recommend a final disposition and disciplinary action to the police chief.

Ultimately, however, the police chief will have the final say on officer discipline in any case.

Even so, Gilbert said he thinks the oversight board will help weed out the "5% [of police officers] that's causing all the problems."

"They need to go," he said.

And at the same time, he said he thinks it'll help identify those who are doing a good job so the city can "make sure they keep doing a good job and make sure we support them."

Earlier in the day, during the council's strategic planning session, Roddy presented an update on the department's progress this year.

He talked about the department's Real Time Intelligence Center, noting that from Jan. 1 to April 30, center staff have investigated 390 incidents. Of those, 46% included usable video footage and 86% of that footage came from the department's public safety cameras.

One of those incidents was a homicide at 909 Dodson Ave. A public safety camera captured the suspect, and a privately-owned camera captured the actual homicide. Investigators identified the suspect within minutes.

Additionally, this year, officers have seized 223 firearms from prohibited possessors — people who aren't able to own or even touch a firearm due to past felony convictions. During all of 2018, police seized 728.

Along with that, the department's gun unit, supervised by Sgt. Josh May, has garnered "national respect" for best practice, being recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Roddy said.

In fact, six North Carolina law enforcement agencies, including High Point — a city that was nationally known for its anti-violence initiatives — recently visited the city to learn how Chattanooga investigates its gun crimes.

Something the department needs help with, though, is minority recruitment.

While they are seeing success in gender recruitment — the current cadet academy is 36% female, possibly the highest it's ever been — they're "not seeing it in race recruitment," Roddy said.

The department held a minority recruitment fair earlier this year, but, despite a $1,500 anonymous donation to help promote the event, only one person showed up, Roddy said.

He said it was advertised on social media and more than 100 times on two radio stations, and two TV news stations announced the event.

"We need help," he said. "We need the community's help, council's help, everyone's help to continue to get the word out to help increase our minority recruitment efforts."

Councilman Anthony Byrd, whose district includes Avondale and Eastside, said it's a deep-rooted problem that will take time to fix.

"It's not a badge of honor now to be a police officer," he said. "It's a badge of shame."

He said he tells his constituents, "If you want to change the system, become a part of it and change it from within. That's why I became a council member."

"But it's gonna take time because we didn't get here over night," he said. "There's so many things that we got to do and implement. That's why the oversight committee is good."

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.