Friday, April 13, 2012

Will the Citizen Review Board's new director be ... too transparent?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2012 at 4:10 PM

In the AJC's piece about the appointment of the Atlanta Citizen Review Board's new Executive Director, Holly Wiseman, the following passage stood out as deliciously honest in a disturbing way ...

"The police union found Wiseman to be most qualified but said they feared she would try to reform the department and would push for transparency to an extent that would harm the reputations of officers against whom complaints are brought."

Relationships between citizen review board directors and law enforcement have a tendency to be adversarial. The police don't want to be told how to do their jobs, especially by a board of civilians. But the fact remains - as we detailed in a 2011 cover story - CRBs can't actually tell the police what to do. They can make recommendations for officer discipline in cases in which a citizen lodged a complaint, and the department's top brass can decide if they agree.

Of course, most of the time, they don't.

When former ACRB Executive Director Cris Beamud resigned her post last November, she voiced frustration with the fact that the board's misconduct investigations and recommendations for discipline are usually ignored.

But the passage from the AJC piece takes the police not wanting to be told what to do a step further: according to the local police union, they don't want people to know what the police do. And why? To protect the reputations of officers who've racked up loads of complaints? Officer disciplinary files are public record, so it's unclear to what extent a CRB director could push transparency beyond that. And, in general, transparency is seldom a bad thing.

I called the local International Brotherhood of Police's headquarters to see if anyone wanted to add to or clarify the AJC's summation of what was said, but I haven't heard back.

Anyway, a little bit about your new ACRB Executive Director ...

Holly Wiseman is a former U.S. Department of Justice Prosecutor who also oversaw civilian review at the New Orleans Police Department.

According to a New Orleans Times-Picayune article about her resignation from that post in 2010, Wiseman has a history of standing her ground, saying she "came to loggerheads" with a former police superintendent when he refused to release certain public records.

She's said of civilian oversight, "The goal is improving citizen trust in the [the police] and thereby increasing citizen cooperation in solving crime.

Best of luck, Holly.

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