Tallahassee activists and CPRB members discuss changes to board powers
“So are we not valued?”
Tallahassee, FL – On August 4, the city of Tallahassee convened their monthly Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) meeting. At this meeting, City Attorney Cassandra Jackson reviewed citizen criticism of the board and the barriers set up by pro-police legislation, like the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights and the Tallahassee city charter. Additionally, the public comment portion showed a clear demand for “Community control of the police now.” One of the major breakthroughs of the meeting was the fact that the city commission has not approved the “end-of-year report” submitted in February, which included questions of expanding authority and approving money for citizen outreach.
While the CPRB is the current police review board, it has not answered the insistence for police accountability after the three 2020 police murders in less than three months. The CPRB traces its inception to the George Floyd Uprising of 2020, where citizens of Tallahassee connected the struggle against police brutality in their own city – the police killings of Tony McDade, Mychael Johnson and Wilson Woodard – with the police brutality in Minneapolis. Hundreds flooded the streets of Tallahassee demanding community control of the police through a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). CPAC completely restructures who the police are accountable to; instead of the police investigating themselves and deciding their own policy, the people of Tallahassee would have the power to decide TPD policy, inform TPD priorities, and fire police officers for misconduct.
Since its creation, the CPRB has faced a multitude of criticisms: the lack of expressed power and autonomy for the board, which allows TPD to reject every effective recommendation; the narrow scope given to the board by the city commission, causing the board members to be unclear of their own duties, powers and responsibilities; and, the lack of outreach to impacted communities, causing the meetings to be largely unattended or known about by the majority of Tallahassee civilians.
These criticisms culminated in a presentation by Delilah Pierre, president of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC), on the demand of a Civilian Police Accountability Council to the CPRB members at the July meeting. Pierre said that the way the CPRB has been created makes it so that even if the board does want to change something, they have so little power to do so, adding, “There were 100,000 emails sent to the Tallahassee City Commission about CPAC and they still never discussed that in public.” This presentation not only directly challenged the legitimacy and power of the CPRB, but it also resulted in the investigation of legal barriers to the people’s demands for CPAC, which was the topic of the August meeting.
The August meeting was focused on the legal barriers, both local and state, that stand in the way to actual police accountability. Out of the nine points reviewed by the City Attorney, the majority of them could be summated into two things: Amending the city charter to take powers away from the City Manager; and amending areas of Florida Statute 112, namely the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights.
While, normally, board members are only able to ask questions, the level of involvement and support of the community, publicized by TCAC, pushed the board to vote unanimously to allow citizen questions to the city attorney. This was unprecedented in the CPRB’s history and opened a clear line of dialogue with the community.
While the legal presentation offered insight on the way forward in regards to the grassroots efforts to expand the board’s authority, ideally in the form of CPAC, the board has also shown tensions regarding their limited powers. The responsibility for the board’s recommendations being rejected lies in the hands of Chief of Police Lawrence Revell. Recently, the chief of police rejected the reasonable CPRB recommendations on use of force with batons and on how to act when engaging with mentally ill persons.
A concrete decision on the way to move forward was not offered at this meeting, as motions to send letters to the city commission were withdrawn, but the CPRB is starting to show intense growing pains. The ordinance that created the board has further constricted and defanged the board. While a concrete decision was not reached, this may be one of the most consequential CPRB meetings since its inception.