A couple years ago, activists in the #FreedomTuesdayz collective told members of Ypsilanti’s city government that the Black Life police accountability platform they ought to study and take seriously was Campaign Zero’s, section two of which is called “Community Oversight.” Note the very particular word used there: oversight. I’m disappointed I didn’t find out until last week that the City was preparing to pass Ordinance 1295, enabling a “Police Advisory Commission.” Given that the City of Ann Arbor is also considering the creation of their own “police advisory” body, what follows are a couple paragraphs and a document we offer as feedback, so that residents of this county understand what’s being set in motion.
Why, if one must choose, is community oversight preferred over advice-offering? Beyond the realm of appearances, no law enforcement agency offered advice by an advisory body is under any obligation to prove to anyone that this advice is being converted dutifully into change that makes civilians any less susceptible to police abuse, harrasment, surveillance, or bias.
What might community oversight look like? A slightly more concise list than Campaign Zero’s is this outline by Justice in Policing:
1. The commission should have full investigative powers (subpoena, compel testimony, access to documents).
2. The police department should be mandated to give complete access to internal affairs and relevant files.
3. The commission must be funded and staffed.
4. The commission should reflect the communities most impacted by police. A majority of the commission must be made up of community members elected in a democratic way. Commission should include no law enforcement officers, in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
5. The commission should review all policies affecting community trust and fairness before passage.
6. The commission should have a meaningful say in the discipline of officers.
7. The commission should make its disciplinary recommendations public regardless of barriers to disciplinary action due to state and local laws. This allows for public knowledge of any discrepancies between the commission’s recommendations and the departments actions, allowing for more transparency and public scrutiny.
8. The commission should accept anonymous complaints as well as complaints by third parties (including organizations) on behalf of individuals.
With this in mind, attached here is a PDF of Ypsilanti’s new ordinance, with crucial emendations made.