It appears that over a year after the idea was presented to the Greensboro City Council, a Criminal Justice Advisory Commission (CJAC) and new Police Community Review Board (PCRB) is likely to be appointed at the City Council meeting on August 21.

The idea to radically change the PCRB, which hears complaints about the Greensboro Police Department, was presented to the City Council in July 2017. The City Council agreed it was a good idea but advised waiting until after the 2017 election to take it up.

The members of the executive committee of the CJAC, David Sevier, Irving Allen and former City Councilmember Tom Phillips, briefly went over what they had done and how to move forward at a City Council work session on Monday, August 6, in the Plaza Level Conference Room.

Because the PCRB had been set up by state statute, the changes suggested could not be made by the City Council but only by the state legislature. The process presented more of a problem than it should have.

Late in this year’s short session, the bills proposing changes to the enabling legislation that created the PCRB and gave it the authority to review police personnel files were hung up in committees in Raleigh and had virtually no chance of passing.

Despite the fact that Greensboro pays a lobbyist to guide bills of particular interest to Greensboro through the legislature, somehow these companion bills in the House and the Senate were introduced by Democrats. State Rep. Pricey Harrison in the House and state Sen. Gladys Robinson in the Senate. Both bills were sent to their respective rules committees where they remain.

The rules committees are where bills are sent to die a quiet death and it is where most of the bills introduced by Democrats are sent.

The idea evidently was that these were noncontroversial bills with no partisan overtones so it didn’t matter who introduced them. But that is not how the state legislature works, particularly when it comes to Greensboro, where the City Council has a bad habit of passing resolutions opposing initiatives supported by the legislature and has had councilmembers make unusually unkind statements about some of the state legislators.

The good news is that after that misstep, Phillips called State Sen. Trudy Wade, who suggested some changes to the bill to make it more palatable to the Republican-led legislation. Wade suggested that the bill be specific about exactly what commission was getting this power, and also removing from the bill the PCRB’s ability to share confidential personnel information with those who filed complaints.

With the changes made to the legislation, Wade shepherded the bill through the Senate and Rep. Jon Hardister did the same in the House.

It was at the last minute but the bill did get passed, and with the changes it is a better bill than the ones that got hung up in the rules committees.

So, over a year later, it appears the City Council is finally going to appoint the CJAC and its subcommittee, the PCRB.

The major change the legislation brought about is that the PCRB will be appointed by the City Council where previously it was appointed by the chairman of the Human Relations Commission and was a subcommittee of the Human Relations Commission.

So if someone wanted to be on the PCRB, first they had to get a city councilmember to appoint them to the Human Relations Commission and then the chairman to appoint them to the PCRB. It was a clunky process.

Sevier in his report to the City Council said that from the studies they had done, “The PCRB is viewed negatively by every demographic, rich, poor, young, old, black, white and so forth.”

He said that people who had filed complaints against the Police Department heard by the PCRB referred to it as “a black hole, a place where things went but never came back.”

Phillips noted that with the legislation passed, “Now we have the capability to move forward.”

The idea is for the CJAC to be far more proactive than the old PCRB. The CJAC plans to get out in the community and talk, particularly to high school students, about how to avoid confrontations with police and how to behave when they are stopped or questioned by a police officer.

Phillips said they will also serve as a sounding board for new programs the Police Department is considering and will be able to bring their own ideas to the Police Department.

Councilmember Sharon Hightower said that she didn’t like the idea of the PCRB being moved out from under the Human Relations Commission. Of course, that was the major purpose of the legislation that Greensboro asked the legislature to pass.

Councilmember Michelle Kennedy said that taking the appointment power away from the Human Relations Commission didn’t mean that it had to be removed from the Human Relations department. The current plan is for the CJAC to have one employee in the city manager’s office for assistance and to report directly to Assistant City Manager Barbara Harris.

Allen said that he had some of the same concerns since the Human Relations department generally had two staff members supporting the PCRB, but he said that it was up to the City Council to decide how much staff support the commission warranted.

He said the executive committee wanted to move forward and work with what it had.

Sevier said that they planned to work closely with Human Relations Director Love Crossling and she had been kept aware of how the process was moving forward.

Then the City Council got into a question of the diversity of the proposed commission.

Kennedy noted that the people on the commission were supposed to have some criminal justice experience but that could be a black man who came to that experience in a different way, from attorneys or those with law enforcement experience.

She also asked if the LGBT and the Hispanic communities were represented on the commission and if there was economic diversity.

However, she did state, “This is the best idea we’ve come up with yet.”

Then the council got into the representation of different City Council districts.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, “I am more than a little concerned that there is only one person from District 2. To me that’s a big problem. Districts 1 and 2 are the most impacted when it comes to complaints. Instead of three people from District 3, I think there should be at least two from District 2.”

Councilmember Justin Outling said, “I have not seen a breakdown of complaints by council district.” He added that until the City Council had data on where the complaints were coming from it didn’t make sense to mold the committee on their perceptions rather than data.

Outling said, “This board composition is exceptionally diverse. I’m not familiar with another city board that represents this type of diversity.” He added, “A person of color is not necessarily someone who lives in Districts 1 or 2.” Outling, who is black, lives in and represents District 3.

Imagine the task that the executive committee choosing members for this commission are facing if all the council concerns are considered. Not only do they have to have an equal number of members from each council district, they have to have racial diversity, have to have at least one member of the LGBT community, one from the Hispanic community, economic diversity, and they all have to have some criminal justice background.   More importantly, they all have to want to serve on the commission.

Councilmember Goldie Well, who represents District 2, said, “I think this is a good list of potential members.”

The executive committee has been working on this for over a year and updated the City Council in March before the legislation was passed that made the CJAC and PCRB possible.

Everything in politics is a compromise, and the set up of the two committees has compromise written all over it.

There will be nine members of the CJAC, and three members of the seven-member PCRB who are not members of CJAC. The PCRB will also have four members who are appointed from CJAC.

All the members of CJAC will be trained to be members of the PCRB so that if one of the appointed members cannot participate, another member of CJAC can fill in.

That part of the whole deal seems more complicated than it needs to be, but it takes five votes on the City Council to get anything done and this somewhat convoluted setup is the result.