In June 2005, the Tacoma City Council approved by a 6-2 vote a major reform of police accountability by establishing an independent auditor and a citizen review board. The tragic murder of Crystal Brame by her husband, the Chief of Police, and the ensuing disclosures of police department failures gave momentum to calls for citizen oversight of Tacoma’s police.
The vote culminates over two years of work by the Police Accountability Working Group, created by the Tacoma Human Rights Commission to draft a proposal for citizen oversight. The Pierce County ACLU Chapter worked closely with the group in developing and promoting the plan, which was drafted by the ACLU of Washington.
Under the new plan, the auditor will monitor the citizen complaint process from start to finish and will issue semiannual reports with comprehensive data needed to assess the system’s effectiveness. The citizen review board will conduct outreach to raise public awareness of the complaint process and listen to community concerns. The review board also will review police department policies and procedures, make recommendations for change, and monitor the work of the auditor.
“We are very pleased by the vote, but we know that passing the ordinance is only the first step. We will be watching closely to make sure that the plan is put into effect and succeeds,” said ACLU-WA Legal Program Director Julya Hampton, who guided the drafting of the proposal. The new measures will be implemented once disputed issues are resolved in the next set of contract talks with the police officers union.