A year after its inception, critics wonder if PARC is succeeding more at mollifying citizens rather than examining police conduct
by Joe Tarr
A year after it was appointed to review complaints against the police department, the Police Advisory and Review Committee had a first last Thursday nightit reviewed a complaint.
The committeeor PARC, as it's knownhadn't formally looked at any of the 217 cases that had been brought to its executive director Carol Scott since it was established by Mayor Victor Ashe last September.
Though many people praise Scott's mediation skills and compassion, some worry her position is in practice an extension of the Knoxville Police Departmentone designed to mollify angry citizens rather than keep a sharp eye on police conduct.
"Carol's position is better than no position. But I'm still not really happy. Carol's a nice woman, and her whole emphasis is to resolve things," says Ron Davis, of Citizens for Police Review, a group advocating for strong police oversight. "She's wanting to keep matters away from a PARC hearing. I think she thinks people are walking away happy, but people are walking away disgruntled, saying, 'What's the point?'"
However, Scott has urged the civilian committee to take a closer look at complaints coming through her office. And some on the committee agree that it's been far too complacent.
the 217 complaints brought to Scott span a vast rangerudeness, excessive force, failure to respond to calls, unfair evictions, bribery, animal harassment, misuse of video equipment, intimidation, refusal to provide information. Some people aren't complaining but reporting crimes, and others complain about enforcement agencies other than the Knoxville Police Department.
Though Scott says she has asked the KPD's Internal Affairs Unit to do more work on investigations (and has asked IAU to investigate incidents), she has yet to disagree with any of its findings. Nor has she felt any of the cases needed to be reviewed by PARC.
Scott says that she will refer PARC to certain cases if, "I felt that IAU did not do as I requested or when I feel they had not done a good job.
"I really did not see that PARC had to [review any cases]," she says. "But the complainant can come before PARC to give their side if they wish."
That happened last Thursday when Donna Miles came before PARC at its fourth regularly scheduled quarterly meeting. Miles, her boyfriend and his brother were in a wreck after 2 a.m. June 13. The three say they were being harassed by the brother's ex-girlfriend, who had threatened to kill them earlier in the night. The woman rear-ended them on Northshore Drive, backed up and hit them again in the side of the car, Miles says.
Miles says the police officer in the case was rude and belligerent to her and her two friends, and eventually threw her boyfriend on the ground and cuffed him. "I think it's because [her boyfriend and his brother] are Arabic," Miles says. "I think it's a racial issue."
Miles' boyfriend was charged with DUIwhich was later dropped to driving while impaired. Miles admits to lying to police officers at the scene, claiming that she was the driver of the car. However, she says she can't understand why the woman who hit them was never charged with anything or tested for blood alcohol content.
The police car videotape from the incident doesn't show any of the alleged abuse that takes place, since it happened out of view of the camera. "I've been so aggravated by this. I've heard stories before about how people are treated by police, but I never believed it until it hits home," Miles says.
Miles says she's happy with the way Scott treated her, even though the director agreed with Internal Affairs that the police officer did nothing wrong. PARC is going to review the videotape of the incident before deciding on it.
Scott has worked as a community liaison for Knoxville College, and before moving to Knoxville she started a domestic violence center in Pittsburgh and taught police about how to deal with domestic violence cases.
With Knoxville, Scott has many roles and duties. With PARC, she's supposed to take complaints from citizens and refer them to the proper agencies when needed. She reviews all Internal Affairs investigations, referring any to PARC she feels need to be looked at (if PARC desires, it can direct Scott to do her own investigation). She's also in charge of keeping the civilian committee up to speed on how cases are being resolved, providing regular reports. In a separate role, Scott is also Knoxville's citizens advocatehelping people navigate the justice system, if they request her help.
Oftentimes Scott deals with police complaints by trying to mediate. If the complainant agrees, she'll set up a meeting with the officers and both sides will talk about what happened and why, she says. This approach has been effective, she says, helping people better understand policemen's jobs.
Sgt. Gordon Catlett, head of KPD's Internal Affairs, says the system has so far worked well, even though some of the questions Scott asks demonstrate an unfamiliarity with police work. "It's an independent group. Most of them have absolutely no police experience. It just gives us a new set of eyes to look at the cases," Catlett says.
But others say the system is far from ideal. Davis of Citizens for Police Reviewa group that formed to push the city to start a review boardsays PARC and Carol Scott don't have enough independence. And Scott's attempts to mediate disputes may not have the desired effect, he adds.
"She's interpreted as a person who is actually working for the police," Davis says. "I don't really think that plays well to John Q. Citizen. It's perceived as a police officer who has some kind of power and authority, and you're sitting down with them thinking the table is not really balanced."
He also questioned why PARC had yet to look at specific incidents, such as the street sweeper used outside the Network dance club and an alleged strip search that happened in public in the Lonsdale neighborhood. (Scott says she met with the owner of the Network, but he did not want to pursue any complaints; she also drove two Lonsdale residents to Internal Affairs to formally make complaints.)
Still, Davis says PARC has simply been too passive. "They definitely should be doing more," he says. "I'm just curious to know what it would take to get a hearing before PARC."
David Drews, a teacher at Vine Middle School and one of the founders of CPR, says the committee needs to be more visible. In the past four years at Vine, he says students have talked about police officers they trust and ones they fear.
"I kind of polled my students last spring and they had no idea what PARC was. I can't remember a single student who recognized the acronym PARC or that knew we had a civilian review board...There needs to be a lot more public outreach."
Pearl and John Davis of Dandridge Avenue complained to Scott because police were never dispatched to their neighborhood when a storm knocked a tree over, despite numerous phone calls. Several hours later, a motorist crashed into the fallen tree. "Carol was very receptive to the complaint," Pearl Davis says. Still, the couple doesn't feel that police show their neighborhood any more consideration since they complained.
"I think we're taken lightly. I realize they have a lot of patrolling to do," John Davis says, "but the problem we're having is that we don't hardly ever see them. Where we live there is not a lot of crime, which we're happy about. But every now and then we'd like to see somebody."
Kenneth David Allen, who complained about being harassed and roughed up by police, says that Scott was nice but wishes she'd done more. Allen says he asked to take a polygraph test but was never given one. "This review board lady, she must be right in cahoots with Internal Affairs. Why didn't she say, 'Why didn't we do a polygraph test?' She never said a word. She never called me up and said, 'Do you want to do this?'"
Of course, it's tough to please everyone in the complaints business. "We really haven't had anyone come back to us to express dissatisfaction," says Dewey Roberts of the NAACP. "She's been very active in almost all situations I've seen. She's been very much on top of things and very, very accessible."
Although Scott's position was created to give citizens a friendly face to take their concerns to, in some ways it may have created a more cumbersome complaint process. If someone takes a complaint to Scott's office in the City County Building, she talks with them and reviews their optionsincluding meeting with the arresting officers or filing a more formal complaint. If the person chooses to file a formal complaint, they must then be interviewed by the KPD's Internal Affairs Unit. Scott then reviews all completed IAU investigations.
Although it creates an extra hoop citizens must jump through, Scott says many prefer it that way. "It seems as though they feel better having the middle person. I just walked in the door and there was a complaint that came in. They thought it would be better to go through me than to go through IAU. They did not want a formal complaint, they wanted to sit down with me and the officers and review the video. Which I have secured. If they decide they want to go further, then we will go further."
PARC has had an effect on police procedures. New recruits and veteran officers will both be getting more sensitivity training, teaching them to be more aware of citizens' perceptions and sharing viewpoints of minorities and gay people. PARC is also establishing a database (which they hope to be up and running in January) that will look for patterns among complaints.
Scott says she'd like to do more, but with only one person helping her part time, she can only do so much.
PARC itself seems to be at odds with how aggressive it should be. The seven-member committee is made up of ministers, attorneys and educators. Sterling Owen IV, a retired FBI investigator, is chairman.
Bridget Bailey, a PARC member and attorney, said at last week's meeting that she'd like more information about the complaints. "I know it's going to be a voluminous amount of paperwork but the community expects this of us," she said. "It's important that we at least have a report detailing the resolution of each case."
But PARC member Joe Johnson, former UT president, says he's content letting Scott ferret through the bulk of the cases. "I for one would not wish to review 185 files if the people involved in them are satisfied with the way they're resolved."
Fellow member and attorney, Robyn Askew, says that the board is largely in the dark on what concerns residents have. "To the extent that we have the ability to be a lightening rod for positive change, we wouldn't even know where to start."