Civilian review board wants ability to subpoena officers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The shooting on Michael Brown and the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, Missouri, put police accountability in the spotlight.

The new Memphis Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board wants change.

“I think that right now especially in light of recently events in Ferguson, the whole world is paying attention to these issues,” Paul Garner, organizing coordinator with the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, said.

The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has fought for more than a year to hold Memphis officers accountable.

“(The) lack of transparency, lack of oversight, lack of accountability had been a problem for a long time,” Garner said.

“It is fully active,” Mayor A C Wharton said. “We have just about all of the members there.”

While Wharton said the city’s newly reformed Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board is up and running, the members still have no power.

“The board has great people on it, but even with the best people on the board, if it doesn’t have the power to do what it needs to do, it’s just a toothless dog. It has a bark, but it doesn’t have a bite,” Garner said.

Currently, the board can only submit a non-binding opinion to the Memphis police director after a complaint is reviewed.

Members like Pastor Ralph White said they need to be able to subpoena officers and hold them accountable for complaints.

“You can’t guarantee you won’t have a Ferguson in the city. We hope and pray,” Wharton said.

The mayor said his administration is working to stay ahead of the ball.

“I’m pleased to say that we have been very proactive here through Director Armstrong’s clergy academy in which we are constantly educating and educating,” Wharton said.

White said he plans to make sure citizens are also made aware of the laws.

The board is planning to submit a proposal to gain more power in front for the city council in March 2015.