City OKs police review board despite public skepticism

Tallahassee Police Department headquarters. Photo courtesy Tallahassee Democrat Files

Tallahassee city commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to create a

citizens’ police review board. Ordinance No. 20-O-31 had been introduced Sept. 9 to form a citizens’ police review board and the decision was made to hold a public hearing on the issue.

According to City Attorney Cassandra Jackson, the ordinance has been on the agenda for the City Commission four times and was first directed to be introduced on June 3.

The citizens’ police review board will include an application process. At least nine members will be approved and appointed by the City Commission.

The activities of the police review board will include training with officers on policies and procedures, ride-a-longs and formal discussions about officer-involved shootings.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor John Dailey rushed through the agenda and was ready to vote on the ordinance before any of the citizens could give their input on this issue — which is the sole purpose of a public hearing. Dailey later apologized and allowed  City Attorney Jackson to introduce and give more information on the ordinance before allowing citizens to comment.

During Sierra Bush Rester’s three minutes, she mentioned how TPD officers should be held accountable for their actions especially after three African Americans were shot and killed in separate incidents between March and late May.

“My issue with having people on the review board that are appointed by and overseen by the commission, who has not had a good track record of holding TPD accountable, 80 people last week asked you to do something about the fact that TPD showed up in riot gear and police dogs and they hurt our young people and our children in this city and you have yet to do anything about it, “ Bush Rester said.

There were also strong objections to Police Chief Lawrence Revell’s appointment for his position due to his involvement in an officer-involved shooting that occurred in 1996 in which Revell shot and killed a Black teenager, George Williams. In all cases, including  Revell’s, grand juries exonerated the officers.

“When we talk about the commission holding TPD accountable I do not think this commission will … we have asked you to fire Lawrence Revell and you have yet to do that,” Bush Rester said. “No wonder why the community does not want this review board because it is not even a start. It is something to placate us so you can pat yourselves on the back and pretend you did something.”

Darwin Gamble used his three minutes to describe how the overall idea of a citizen review police board won’t necessarily be effective in Tallahassee.

“All the ordinance will do is create an advisory board that can review what the department does and make recommendations that can be ignored, it has no real authority over the department at all,” Gamble said. “I do not think that is what the public really wants. I think to get there we would need an amendment of the city charter and you would have to create something like a police commission that actually governs the police department.”

Elizabeth Winchester told commissioners she is upset with how the they are not listening to the voices of the citizens and how many other cities are actually taking steps toward police reform.

“When a governmental body just goes ahead and does whatever it has on its agenda and really does not listen to majority of the people in the community, I just think a lot of other cities are working towards criminal justice reform in a legitimate authentic way but it just seems like our city continues to move in the opposite direction as though no one is noticing, we do notice and we will document it,”  Winchester said.

Cities such as Richmond, Virginia have created police reform bills that prohibited the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds and prohibit the hiring of officers fired due to force investigations after the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many others.

The ordinance has been officially adopted and should become effective immediately.