Hampton officials take stance on police review board
Hampton Township Council is sending a letter of nonsupport to Allegheny Council in regard to Allegheny County Independent Police Review Board, per a decision at the Jan. 23 council meeting.
The Independent Police Review Board, which has not yet passed, was created to review actions of police departments in any municipality within the county that wanted to “opt-in,” said Allegheny County Councilman DeWitt Walton.
The nine-member board would consist of three appointed by the county executive and six appointed by council, he said.
The terms run four years, with no one serving more than two consecutive terms, according to the legislation. At no time should there be no more than two voting members of the board who are experienced with law enforcement and they must not be currently active as a law enforcement officer, per legislation.
One member must also have a legal background, as the board has a dual role of auditing and investigating, said DeWitt.
It also states that an appointed member, at a minimum, should undergo a course of Mandatory In-Service Training offered by the Allegheny County Police Academy at least every other calendar year and two elective in-service training courses offered through the academy the other year.
Allegheny Council has until December to pass the legislation or “start over again,” said Walton, who represents District 10.
Hampton Township Police Chief Tom Vulakovich said their main concern is that the civilian members of the board would not have adequate police training or background to properly review or make decisions regarding police work.
Specifically, the township council states that “the minimal law enforcement related training requirements are insufficient in providing board members with the education and career experience that is needed to fulfill the above stated objectives and to make sound and competent decisions regarding an officer’s conduct.”
As far as the process goes, for those municipalities that opt in, the board can review a municipality’s policies and procedures, make suggestions and provide a vehicle for citizens or residents of a municipality, as well as any individuals in a community, if they have a concern about how law enforcement was managed, said Walton.
He said when a complaint is filed, alleging concern, misconduct or violation of their rights, a review is held within 30 days, he said.
The board assesses the situation to determine if a potential violation did occur or if it did not have merit, after which it will be dismissed. If a violation did seem to occur, it will be sent to the district attorney for handling and review and determine the outcome, said Walton.
If a formal complaint was found to be false and intentionally made against an officer, this will also be referred to the district attorney for handling, because it “becomes a sworn statement and as a result it protects the police officer from allegations,” said Walton.
However, Hampton Township already has a long-established procedure and policies for citizens who wish to file complaints against an officer, said Vulakovich.
This includes an appeal process in which a governing body of elected officials and administrators review and take action. And in the case of a more serious civil rights violation, outside agencies such as the Allegheny County Police Department, the county district attorney, or the US District Attorney’s office can investigate, according to the Hampton letter.
In regard to experience, Vulakovich said their officers are required to go through additional training annually, including pressure point tactics, Mandatory In-Service Training, and SIMTAC, a simulated firearms training.
Vulakovich said with all of this training and job experience, it takes approximately six years to become a veteran officer.
“This police department and our officers are trained frequently,” he said
The Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association is opposed to this ordinance, according to the township letter, and that there is “already a mechanism in place that provides for a fair and transparent review of any accusations of police misconduct in Hampton Township.”
Hampton Township Manager Christopher Lochner said while the board was “well-meaning,” it may not be the answer.
Walton said municipalities are free to opt in or out, and some have already expressed their wish to be part of the process. He said any resident can contact the county to see the legislation.
“It’s transparent. It’s open,” said Walton, adding it’s not to “infringe, impinge or minimize the responsibilities of law enforcement management.”
Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.