May 19, 2004 Union leaders expressed displeasure for a police civilian review board proposed in the Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Omnibus Bill during a hearing of the Senate committee of the same name Wednesday.
In the third public hearing the proposed bill, Police Lt. Edmund Thompson, president of the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union, told committee members that a review of the bill has "prompted several concerns," particularly the creation of a Police Review Commission.
Thompson said, before such a board is created, the committee should obtain "Annual Performance Reports" from the Internal Affairs Bureau, which currently investigates cases involving misconduct of police officers, to see whether a lack of disciplinary action and accountability have taken place.
"We believe that this approach should be the first course of action to assure the general public and law enforcement employees that such a commission is needed or required at this junction," Thompson said. "While the LESU welcomes new and advanced techniques to enhance our ability to serve and protect our community, we would prefer that this committee utilize a policy making approach with enough objective precision to determine the need of a Police Review Commission."
Riise Richards, president of the Supervisor's Union, United Steelworkers of America, had similar concerns.
"The concept of a civilian review board at a time when it is purely inspired by public opinions could have far reaching ramifications," Richards said.
Richards said the board could become overwhelmed with complaints, and may entertain only complaints against police officers and ignore complaints against top brass in the department.
"I do not see a positive conclusion or outcome to a civilian review board in its present proposed form," Richards said.
Both Richards and Thompson said they were opposed to a section in the bill that changed the 20-year eligibility for retirement to 25 years.
Lorraine Berry, committee chair, said she has removed the section of the bill extending the retirement eligibility period.
"That doesn't mean the issue is dead, however," Berry said, adding that the section of the bill had been included to help retain experienced officers and to help out the Government Employees Retirement System.
Berry said she also removed from the bill a section calling for the expunging of criminal records. She added that the voluminous bill would be broken down into three separate bills: law enforcement, homeland security and a bill concerning the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act UCITA.
Witnesses also gave their views on a section of the bill establishing standards on the tinting of motor vehicles.
"It would be unfair for this Legislature to pass legislation restricting the citizens use of tint on their personal vehicles, while government officials can enjoy the privacy of an automobile that is paid for by tax payers," Richards said.
Committee members and other testifiers did not see eye-to-eye with Richards, however.
"If there's anything we need to fix right away from a safety standpoint is the tint laws," Sen. Carlton Dowe said. "There are certain things as a community we should not accept. This is a dangerous practice and it should not continue."
Jorge Estemac, founder and director of Citizens Coalition for Better Government, said what is needed is enforcement of the tint laws that already are on the books.
"By making new laws, I don't know if that will help any," Estemac said.
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