HUACHUCA CITY — The town of Huachuca City is in the process of establishing a Citizens’ Police Advisory Review Board.
The board is designed to provide a streamlined resolution process for residents in the event that complaints against the police department are not resolved administratively.
“The purpose of the advisory review board is to provide recommendations to the town’s administration to help with unresolved complaints regarding the police department,” said Town Manager Suzanne Harvey.
“When a complaint is filed, we review the issue and take corrective action when necessary. We let the complainant know what action was taken and, if the complainant is still not satisfied, it could go to the citizens’ advisory board for further review and recommendation,” she said.
While all complaints against the town’s different departments are taken seriously and addressed administratively, the citizens’ review board applies specifically to the police department and allows an opportunity for an additional level of review, Huachuca City Mayor Johann Wallace said.
“The review board is specific to the police department because you’re dealing with sworn peace officers who are subject to policies and procedures that are consistent with Arizona certifications. This is much different than handling complaints against regular town departments,” the mayor explained.
Wallace also noted that other municipalities across the country have turned to citizens’ review boards for recommendations on policies, procedures and practices, and have reported positive outcomes through community input.
“This is something that we have been talking about starting for years,” he said.
Initially, when a complaint against the police department is filed, it will go to the town manager who will, in most cases, involve Police Chief Jim Thies to help determine the facts and seek a resolution.
If a satisfactory resolution is not reached, the issue could go before the citizens’ review board.
“This new process is intended to complement the town’s current complaint procedures by providing an additional level of review for matters involving the police department,” Harvey said.
“We want to make it clear that this citizens’ review board does not have authority to conduct independent investigations,” she added. “The board can review matters and make recommendations. When necessary, we could bring those recommendations to the town council.”
Council members approved the review board’s procedures — which were drafted by Harvey and Thies, with advice from Huachuca City Attorney Thomas Benavidez — during a March 11 council meeting.
Thies believes the citizens’ review board will help increase transparency and overall trust between the police department and community.
“I see this as a mechanism to help build confidence in our police department,” the chief said. “We’ll have an appointed, unbiased board in place to make recommendations that will assist our department in identifying positive outcomes when an incident occurs.”
Once the board is formed, Thies said the police department will have one of its officers serving on the board as a liaison, in a non-voting capacity.
“This is something new for the town, so we’re going to put it into use and tweak it as we go along,” Benavidez said. “At some point, we’ll want to codify this into the town code, but I don’t think it’s ready yet. As of now, all we’re doing is seeking approval to move forward to fill the positions on the board,” he added.
Citizens’ Review Board qualifications:
The review board will consist of five voting and two non-voting, ex-officio members.
Voting members are not held to jurisdictional boundaries, but can reside within Huachuca City, Whetstone, and surrounding communities. Board members must be at least 18 years of age.
The following list of restrictions prevent residents from serving on the board as a voting member:
Anyone that has been convicted of a felony, or is under a felony indictment.
Those with pending criminal charges from a law enforcement agency or court.
Sworn police officers, or residents with a family member that is an employee of the town of Huachuca City are not eligible to serve on the review board.
The mayor and council will appoint the board’s voting members, and training will be provided prior to reviewing any matters.
Review board guidelines:
The board is authorized to comment on the fairness and thoroughness of investigations conducted by the town’s police department, as well as request the town manager to review actions taken on citizen complaints. Additionally, the board is authorized to provide comment and recommendations on the complaint review process when it comes to police department policy, procedures and practices.
Police Chief Jim Thies created a flow chart for the complaint process that council approved at a March 11 meeting.
Complaint referral process:
A complaint must be filed to the town manager within 120 days of the incident. The board is to keep a log of the name, address and telephone number of persons making statements to the board at its meetings. If action is taken, the citizen filing the complaint will be kept informed of the board’s actions.
The board will work with the town manager to promote and encourage policies that reflect a concern for the overall well-being of the community as it seeks to address underlying causes of the problem, Harvey said.
“We have a wonderful police department with dedicated officers that are very involved with our community,” Harvey said. “This citizens’ review board is something we wanted to establish as a way to continue building goodwill between our police department and community.”