Police oversight agency one step closer to getting more authority

A proposal that would give The City’s police oversight body the power to investigate nearly all police shooting incidents moved a step closer to fruition Thursday.

The Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee sent the item to the full board for approval after hearing from the head of the organization that would be given more power if voters ultimately approve the measure. If approved by the board, it will be placed on the June ballot.

Yet some at the hearing questioned whether the understaffed agency can handle more work or if giving it more authority is enough to help rebuild community trust in the Police Department, which has faced intense scrutiny after a group of police officer were caught sending racist text messages. That was followed by the killing by police of Mario Woods in December.

Still, Supervisor Malia Cohen, who authored the proposal, said it will bring more accountability to the department.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Cohen said.

As it stands, the Office of Citizen Complaints, which investigates all complaints of police wrongdoing, must receive a complaint to open an investigation. But that excludes some police shootings because not all of them result in the filing of a complaint with the agency.

In the past five years, about 25 percent of such shootings have been investigated by the OCC.

Under Cohen’s proposal, the OCC would automatically investigate all police shootings that result in death or injury. No complaint would be required.

But Supervisor Eric Mar questioned whether the understaffed agency could handle the extra work.

OCC Director Joyce Hicks told the committee she plans to ask for money to hire five additional investigators if the measure is approved by the voters. But if those new positions aren’t funded, she said she will have a few hand picked investigators to head up police shooting investigations to fulfill the agency’s new role.

Still, some at the hearing said the OCC already falls short of fulfilling its role as a police watchdog.

Barbara Attard, former special assistant in charge of policy for the OCC from 1983 to 1998, told the committee the OCC has more serious deficiencies that need to be fixed before it’s given additional responsibilities.

Not all were as skeptical of the new powers.

“It will provide transparency and accountability,” said Jackie Flin, the executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a non-profit organization that advocates for under served communities.

The proposal will before the Board of Supervisors March 8.

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