A local organization is calling for the creation of a Community Oversight Board (COB), saying the trust between residents and the Port Allen Police Department is tarnished.
Members of Justice for Fatrell, an organization formed in response to the unsolved 2017 murder of 28-year-old Fatrell Queen, asked the city council’s community development committee to consider introducing an ordinance implementing a COB on Wednesday, June 5.
The committee opted to have city attorney Courtney Joiner follow-up with New Orleans Police Monitor and oversight board expert Susan Hutson, who committed to assisting Port Allen in the development of a COB.
Kevin Lawrence, vice president of Justice for Fatrell, listed faulty investigations, home invasions of elderly and single parents, public gunshots with failure by police to follow-up, excessive use of force, gun violence, racial slurs, police misconduct, citizen complaints, and vague overview of criminal activity as reasons a COB is “not needed, but now required.”
He referred to “two, possibly three” unsolved murders within the city as the cause for alarm. Two homicides, one within the city limits and one outside of them, occurred this year and remain unsolved.
On Jan. 29, 19-year-old Dedrick Jackson was murdered by an unknown drive-by shooter on Avenue A. The murder of 56-year-old Richard Ellis, who was shot in his trailer in LaCombe Trailer park is being handled by the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
The proposal states, “the COB would have compulsory investigative and subpoena power with the ability to have access to police records to review, monitor and audit.”
“I mean I never say never, but to me, that’s something that could never happen,” Councilman Hugh Riviere said.
The powers given to the COB strengthen prosecution, ensure policies are followed and assist in mediation between the police and residents, Hutson said.
“It’s not about getting the police it’s about making sure they’re stronger,” Huston told the committee.
Clerice Lacy, Director of Justice for Fatrell, said the COB would be “tailor-made” to the community and police department. The COB will reduce or eliminate community concerns about high profile incidents, the amount of tax dollars spent on police brutality lawsuits while building trust with residents to increase cooperation in solving crimes, she said.
Lawrence called for a motion on the proposal, saying he wanted to see an ordinance adopted, but with several legalities to trudge through, the process of creating the COB could take years, Riviere said.
Hutson will meet with Joiner to work out details and legalities, which will be as plenty as the number of differences between the New Orleans and Port Allen police departments. One of the main differences is the NOPD Police Chief is an appointed official, whereas Esdron Brown, the PAPD Police Chief, is an elected official. The NOPD also has approximately 1,200 employees. PAPD has 20, including the chief.
Joiner expressed concern about the legality of the council providing oversight to the police department because, as elected officials, they all fall under the same umbrella.
“The concept can be done, but some of the items in the original proposal cannot legally be done,” Joiner said.
Joiner committed to working with Hutson to begin drafting a plan for the COB and will follow-up with the community development committee at the July meeting.
“We’re learning this as we move along,” Lawrence said before promising the committee, “We can’t stop, won’t stop.”