Police Abuse Reporting wants to take over police complaints www.privateofficer.com
Randy Newingham, 26, of Jacksonville helped form Police Abuse Reporting, a grassroots movement, last fall.
“I would like to see more oversight of police and more police training in communication skills,” Newingham said.
“I have sent Chief [Tony] Grootens lists of types of training that PAR would like officers to undergo. We are on the side of police, but we believe we are all equals as humans and should be treated fairly. We should be treated the way a police officer would wanted to be treated.”
Jacksonville Police Chief Tony Grootens believes the process for handling complaints about police is already in place.
“We don’t need a police oversight board for several reasons,” Grootens said. “First of all, if it is a criminal allegation against a police officer, that complaint is forwarded to the Illinois State Police to investigate and if it is an allegation of excessive force, the FBI has jurisdiction over civil rights violations.”
A movement to create citizen oversight of the police in the United States began in the 1970s, with citizen oversight in some form established in 80 percent of the country’s 50 largest cities and in more than 100 municipalities, according to the Police Assessment Resource Center in Los Angeles.
“Efforts to create external or citizen oversight of the police have traditionally been fueled by public concerns that exclusively internal mechanisms to investigate and track police misconduct have not always resulted in unbiased, thorough and timely investigations of citizen complaints of police misconduct,” the Police Assessment Resource Center said.
Proponents of enhanced civilian oversight believe that, even where internal processes have been adequate, police agencies benefit by the increasing scrutiny and transparency citizen oversight provides.
Urbana is one Illinois city that has civilian oversight of its police.
“To my knowledge, there was no precipitating incident or incidents that led to the establishment of the Civilian Police Review Board,” said Todd Rent, human relations officer for the city of Urbana. “It was something that the mayor believed to be important.”
Urbana’s seven-member Civilian Police Review Board was formed in April 2008 to oversee internal police investigations of citizens’ complaints against police officers.
“Since the inception of the review board, there has only been one appeal to the board,” Rent said. “In the end, the board supported the police department’s decision in that case.”
Rent said the majority of the complaints made to the Urbana Police Department deal with police procedures, rudeness and conduct. “There haven’t been a lot of complaints about police use of excessive force,” he said. “I think the review board is a very positive and important process because it gives the community a systematic way of achieving oversight of the police department.”
Newingham said PAR members are collecting complaints about police, including those alleging verbal and physical abuse and harassment.
“We will act as witnesses, or mediators, when people interact with police,” Newingham said. “And people have the right to file a complaint without fear of retaliation from police. Furthermore, the whole police complaint process is biased, in that the police are the ones investigating the complaint against them. What we are trying to do is to step in and create our own oversight system. Right now, we can’t be effective because state law won’t allow us to audio record police interactions with the public.”
Newingham has had a number of conflicts with Jacksonville police over the years. He has a record of misdemeanor offenses dating back more than 10 years, including cannabis possession, alcohol-related crimes and charges of resisting or obstructing a peace officer.
“I have had interactions with police and I know how some officers can abuse their authority,” Newingham said. “I know many of the officers approach situations with respect for the person they are investigating, but there are certain officers who treat certain people in our community without respect.”
Grootens said Newingham and all citizens should realize that police handle many difficult situations, including some that require physical restraint.
“What Randy Newingham and other PAR members may not understand is that police officers often have to deal with people in a situation where emotions are high and logic is non-existent,” Grootens said.
“Police have to quell potentially hostile situations the best they can at the time. Police don’t have the luxury of devoting an inordinate amount of time to quell certain situations. Citizens involved in hostile situations are often given the choice to leave immediately or be arrested. And more often than not parties involved are heavily intoxicated. If you look at the scenario, the officers’ job is to not allow the hostilities to escalate. Oftentimes, you can’t do that in a nice way.”
Newingham said that PAR is an outgrowth of several incidents in which police were accused of using excessive force, including the Dennis Lancaster case in 2009.
“PAR basically started with Dennis’ case,” Newingham said. “Since then, we have protested several times in front of the [Morgan County] courthouse, a few times in front of the Ferris wheel on Morton Avenue, and we even marched into the mayor’s office one time.”
In addition, Newingham and other PAR members have gone door to door with petitions, asking for police communication skills training, and attended several Jacksonville City Council meetings, requesting independent oversight of the police department.
Grootens said he is a strong advocate for police training.
“I would love to see more training for officers, but mainly training dealing with the deaf, blind and the mentally disturbed in our community,” he said.
PAR started as an online group with 228 “concerned citizens,” according to Newingham.
“We just set up the public Facebook page and that’s where a person can go to file a complaint against the Jacksonville Police Department,” Newingham said. “There is a link on the page where a person can file a complaint that we will do our best to investigate. The link asks for a person’s name, but we keep the name confidential. We don’t have subpoena power to get an officer to sit down and talk with us about the situation, but what we can do is to provide phone numbers for people to call for outside help.
“The only reason I got involved was because I saw a guy — Dennis Lancaster — who needed help getting his voice heard,” Newingham said. “I have skills in community organization that were useful in helping Dennis.”
Grootens concedes that officers handle certain situations in different ways.
“Newingham may be correct in that some officers may not treat some individuals with the utmost respect because that individual has probably created a hostile environment in which the officer has to deal with,” Grootens said. “And oftentimes alcohol is involved. You take alcohol out of the equation and, generally speaking, the situation de-escalates.
“The main message of the police department is don’t be disrespectful to the police and they won’t be disrespectful to you,” Grootens said.