Originally created 09/24/98

Give board a chance! 092498 - The Augusta Chronicle



Augusta Human Relations director Frank Thomas' 14-year-long campaign for an advisory civilian review board ended this week with a historic agreement between Richmond County Sheriff Charlie Webster and the Human Relations Commission.

We don't suppose it will satisfy the most militant review board proponents who would give the panel subpoena power and power over the police. This board does no such thing; what it does do, though, is provide a civilian voice in sensitive areas of police conduct, but not civilian control.

The new committee's mission, soon to be officially adopted into the Sheriff Department's policy and procedures manual, calls for reviewing allegations of excessive police force, use of firearms and other weapons, and charges of discrimination -- then recommending to the sheriff reforms which he can either accept or reject.

The commission, to be selected by the sheriff, will include 10 civilians from each district of the city and three Sheriff's Department officers.

The sheriff's representatives should help prevent reckless Monday-morning quarterback talk by explaining to the board's civilian members why sometimes police must take controversial action in cases they're reviewing.

The panel won't review any case until police have completed their investigation, says Webster, adding "We feel we are doing a pretty good job at being fair to the citizens ... and the board will help the public know and understand."

There will be cop-hating zealots charging the new board is just a front to whitewash the Sheriff's Department, but we doubt highly respected HRC director Thomas would recommend signing onto a sham.

For his part, Webster went about as far as he reasonably could without losing control of his department. Give the new board a chance.

If it can alleviate the kind of ugly frictions that developed between some sectors of the civilian community and the police in the wake of the controversial Alfaigo Davis shooting, it will prove its value.