Last July, when legislation for a new Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) was still pending before the city council, At-Large Councilmember David Catania and his staff realized that even if the legislation passed, it would be too late for the 1999 budget. So Catania did the next best thinghe went to Congress and lobbied for $1.2 million in start-up funds.
Of course, the CCRB was a tough sell to the GOP Congress, even for a Republican like Catania. The board would investigate citizens’ complaints about police misconductnot a big priority for tough-on-crime legislators. And D.C. had a dismal track record during the body’s first incarnation a decade ago, when it became infamous for sitting on cases and never demonstrating the power to actually change police behavior.
But Catania and his congressional liaison, Carl Schmid, pushed it through, meeting countless times with staffers for then-D.C. Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) and convincing at least one other member of Congress that the board would not be anti-cop. “I believe very strongly in the notion of civilian oversight and civilian participation in police oversight,” Catania says. “That opinion is shared by good officers as well.”
On July 24, Taylor agreed to fund the board, with one condition: The feds would subsidize it only for fiscal year 1999. After that, the logic went, D.C. would have to find the money elsewhere. The funding bill eventually passed both the House and Senate, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in November as part of the District’s appropriations bill. Legislation authorizing the CCRB became law March 26.
A glance at D.C.’s latest budget proposal, however, suggests that the D.C.-bashing North Carolinian was a pushover compared with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams. D.C. taxpayer funding for the CCRB is conspicuously absent from Williams’ first budgetmeaning that when fiscal year 2000 starts, there will be no money for the board. Despite Taylor’s promise of only one year of funding, Williams’ budget’s section on the police reads: “The Metropolitan Police Department has budgeted for continued federal funding for the [CCRB].”
On top of the missing dollars, the board itself is missing in action. Williams has yet to appoint its membersa problem, because CCRB legislation calls for him to appoint a five-member panel, which will then hire an executive director and investigators to look into citizen complaints. Marie Drissel, special assistant to the mayor for boards and commissions, says the backlog of vacancies on city boards means she is just “gearing up” to staff the CCRB. “We are starting to look at names right now,” Drissel says. “I don’t have a projection of when it will be ready.”
Activists from local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) insist that they made sure Williams knew about the funding issue a month into his tenure. Mark Thompson, chair of the local NAACP’s police task force, said he made a dozen calls to the mayor’s office and got no response.
“[The issue] was made known for the mayor,” Catania says. “We are going to have to find these funds locally.”
Still, mayoral spokesperson Peggy Armstrong says Williams is banking on congressional help for the CCRBdespite Taylor’s caveat. “It’s our hope and belief that it will be federally funded in
[fiscal year] 2000,” Armstrong says, adding, “The mayor has every intention of funding the CCRB, and he has made a commitment to work with the council through the budget process to make sure the board has the necessary resources to meet the needs of residents.”
Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer says CCRB funding should have been planned a long time ago. But if D.C. does wind up paying, Gainer wants to make sure it’s not out of his purse: He argues that the CCRB’s money shouldn’t come from the police budget, since the board is an independent body. “We have entered into discussions with the mayor’s office that they do need to have discussions on the issue,” Gainer admits. “This didn’t get all the attention that it needed.”
Catania and D.C.’s various police watchdogs agree that the CCRB should be independant from the police’s budget. Still, Mary Jane DeFrank, executive director of the local ACLU chapter, says the omission is an outrage: “We were surprised and horrified that after all this work, it wasn’t going to appear in anyone’s budget. It’s almost dooming it to failure before it began.”CP