Council hints at changes for complaint review

Members of the Greensboro City Council’s CRE Enhancement Committee were in unanimous agreement on April 29 that they would like to make changes to the Complaint Review Committee (CRC) process.

Under the current process, citizens may file a complaint if they feel a member of the police department has treated them unfairly. The complaints are then sent to members of the Greensboro Police Department’s Professional Standards Division (PSD) who review the evidence and determine a ruling on the matter. If the citizen is not satisfied with the ruling they may ask the CRC to review the decision.

Members of the subcommittee include Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, Councilman Tony Wilkins and Councilman Jamal Fox. Chief Ken Miller was also in attendance to listen to deliberations. Interim city attorney Tom Carruthers provided legal guidance to members as they debated process changes.

Local working mother, Lori Walton, has been attending meetings as a member of the public to provide insight into the difficulties she has had with an ongoing case with the CRC. Walton expressed frustration that information has been kept from her regarding her case, which involves two different accusations of child abuse inflicted on her son by Guilford County School employees. A request for public information about the alleged incident submitted by Yes! Weekly has been ignored by GCS staff since early March.

Johnson expressed sympathy for Walton’s objections to the internal process.

“To be shut out, and to not be a part of a process that involves your children, to me, is wrong,” Johnson stated.

Wilkins asked members, “In my role as a councilmember, is there anything I can do to help Ms. Walton find a resolution?” Johnson said she felt it was outside the current realm of City Council, and so they needed to form a new process.

For the present time, subcommittee members advised Walton to contact an attorney to help with obtaining the files related to her case. Chief Miller added that, “We [the police] would love to be able to provide the case. That is not the issue. The law is what prevents us from providing it.”

With subcommittee members in agreement that a new process was needed, they began deliberating what that process might look like.

Mayor Vaughan suggested appointing individuals to a new CRC committee, separate from the police department, to help citizens through the process. The subcommittee discussed the possibility of letting each councilmember appoint an individual to serve through the duration of the councilmember’s term.

The subcommittee unanimously agreed that appointees should complete some form of police academy training for citizens. Chief Miller said he would be willing to work with the CRC on expediting any sort of training course for such a role and suggested that objectivity would be a key trait for any appointee.

“Having appointees is going to be an improvement over the current system,” said Wilkins. “I think the process that we’re taking and the direction that we’re taking is a system that will be more representative of the entire city.”

The CRC Enhancement Committee intends to move forward with plans to change the process by first researching how other cities operate. Mayor Vaughan suggested that the committee members find out how other communities do things and joked that members could “take a road trip, Thelma and Louise style!” Instead of a cross-country tour, the subcommittee plans to send letters to communities with external complaint review boards to find out more about the logistics of how their process and what type of feedback they have received from citizens. Communities to receive letters include the cities of Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Durham.

The CRC Committee plans to reconvene once they have responses from at least some of the cities. While the subcommittee plans to carefully review the feedback from other cities, the new system in Greensboro will most likely be unique.

Wilkins is optimistic about the future of the new CRC process. “I think the committee led by Mayor Vaughan will make improvements,” he said. !