We demand that any community task force on public safety be composed entirely of civilians, with no members of the police or public safety commission. Why?
- Confidentiality. If the task force seeks to gather community testimony that may feature negative experiences with the police and harm caused by the police, including police officers in the task force is a gross breach of confidentiality and ethics and endangers community members. People who have had negative experiences with the police have every reason to be afraid of retaliation–it happens all the time, and the same people who have historically been targets of police abuse are also most vulnerable to retaliation. Excluding cops is not enough to guarantee confidentiality or safety, but it is a necessary first step. Note also that in other communities task force members themselves have been targets of documented police retaliation.
- Independence. The initial move to audit the police department came from a need for an independent investigation into misconduct and discrimination which cannot successfully be carried out by anyone in the department.
- Trust. Community members will need to have trust in the task force before even considering sharing negative experiences.
- Oversight. The task force is being created out of a recognized need for better civilian oversight of the police. It makes no sense, and it is a complete conflict of interest, for police to literally oversee their own department.
- Unnecessary. The police will be deeply involved in shaping the task force’s recommendations, regardless of whether they are represented directly among voting members of the task force.
- Experience. Task forces in other towns and cities have routinely excluded police for all the reasons listed above and still created meaningful ways for police to participate in the process. Additionally, over-policed communities, especially people of color organizing to change policing and prisons, have very clearly demanded that police be excluded from such task forces.
- Cost vs. benefits. There are simple ways to make sure that police can meaningfully participate and be represented in the task force proceedings without including them as members in the task force (see alternative proposal below). However, the potential costs of including police in the task force are grave, as noted above. Why risk harm and undermine trust when there are better, safer options of ways to include police ready at hand?
- Create an official advisory board to the task force. This will help the task force have ready access to specialist knowledge, experience, and data, while reducing the total number of members (which offers other practical benefits to the process, too). The advisory board should be non-voting and should include all of those officials and professionals listed in Councilor Bullock’s proposal. There are good reasons for this beyond our desire to limit the undue influence of the police: it’s inappropriate to place employees of social service agencies in voting roles as part of their professional duties because it is a conflict of interest–these agencies could potentially acquire contracts to provide services that the task force recommends, and all agencies have pre-existing relationships with the police which they have to maintain.
- Instruct the police department and fire department to each appoint a liaison to the advisory board (to be confirmed by majority of the task force or by city council), for the purpose of providing information, facilitating communication, and representing the position of the departments and experiences of their members. This should be a non-voting position, and the task force should be able to conduct its business independently of the police.
- Instruct the task force to interview officers and include their points of view and professional opinions in their report.
- Ensure there will be rigorous public outreach included in the task force’s duties: this will include interviews with stakeholders from every relevant city department including the police.