Opinion: citizen oversight board and a new police chief for Madison

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in a letter to the editor are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of The Madison Record.

By Hanu Karlapalem, submitted

Madison City’s Mayor and City Council are going to take two actions very soon that will affect all of us.  First, the council is going to vote on the creation of a Citizen Advisory Board for the Police Department on Monday, February 8th and second, they are going to appoint a new Chief of Police.

The people of Madison City should contact the Mayor and our Council members to ask that they create a Citizen Oversight Board rather than an advisory board.  I applaud their recognition that a problem exists, and that citizens should be active participants in solving it, but they have unnecessarily and unwisely limited their input at an advisory level.

It is the people who give the police, the right to use physical force, even deadly force, to protect public safety.  It also is the people who suffer and die if the police abuse or misuse that authority, or if city management or police leadership fail to exercise proper discipline.  A board offering advice that need not be heeded to people who may not be held accountable is not adequate assurance that the people’s interests will be protected.  Only an oversight board, having collateral authority in creating and reviewing procedures and in ensuring proper discipline, will do that job. Police procedures, training, and leadership have failed to eliminate racial bias and the overreaching of authority across many cities and counties.  So has the civilian leadership exerted by Mayors, City Councils, and County Commissions.

I urge the Madison City Council to show their respect for the citizens they serve and to demonstrate their resolve to create a strong police-citizen bond of trust by creating a Citizen Oversight Board.  I urge every concerned citizen in Madison to do likewise.

In addition to an oversight board, the city should appoint a competent, unbiased, and non-political new Chief of Police from out of state. Friendships, alliances, “buddy buddy culture”, and politics have far too great a chance of replacing competence in the selection process if an insider is chosen as the Chief of Police.

Cities across the nation have faced successful lawsuits, innocent people have been killed, and police officers have endured unfair criticism that could have been avoided with effective leadership supplemented by active citizen involvement.  We know from past experience that violent encounters between police and citizens have caused controversy and left unanswered questions right here in Madison City, Alabama.

Please urge the Mayor and Council members to do what is best both for the police and the community by selecting an outside person as the new Chief of Police, and by creating a Citizen Oversight Board.

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