Council considers ACLU’s suggested amendments for public safety commission ordinance
The Nome Common Council has received from the ACLU of Alaska a 10-page analysis of an ordinance enabling a community public safety commission.
ACLU representatives who attended a Feb. 18 community meeting concerning the creation of a public safety commission offered assistance in designing the new advisory group to target public mistrust of the Nome police, to repair relations between police and the community and to address public safety needs.
The letter from Triada Stampas, ACLU policy director, includes suggested amendments. The letter applauded the mayor and Nome Common Council for “taking this step toward improving transparency and public accountability for the Nome Police Department, and ask that you give our recommended amendments … your consideration,” Stampas’ letter began.
With the formation of a public safety commission, “the Nome City Council will enhance its ability to address public safety needs, contribute to a culture of transparency, and begin to repair fractures in local police-community relations.”
The suggestions include a separation of the commission from City administration by avoiding an appearance that the group is unduly influenced by law enforcement. At the same time care must be taken that the commission’s work won’t be thwarted by being denied access to information from the police department.
“It is important to ensure that the police department cannot impede the work of the commission by withholding or denying requests for information,” Stampas states in her letter to mayor and Council. The Public Safety Commission is charged with making recommendations to the City Council ‘to promote the efficiency, quality and availability of public safety services,’ as well as ‘on the organizational structure and policies of the public safety department,’ as stated in the ordinance under consideration by the Council.
Still, the ACLU proposes an amendment to the ordinance to foster public confidence in how citizen complaints are handled, in part, through collaboration with the police chief. The police chief is not ruled out of receiving confidential complaints on police misconduct.
These are samples of the ACLU suggestions to the Council:
• Remove city manager and chief of police as ex officio members to ensure public confidence in the public safety commission’s independence.
• Provide assistance to the commission in getting records and other materials needed to perform its duties, except for those that cannot by law be disclosed.
• The Council will have two weeks to look at the suggested amendments and discuss them at the next Council meeting April 22.
• Lower trust barriers for those wishing to report police misconduct—perhaps provide citizens a non-police option, a civilian alternative for receiving complaints.
• Make sure the commission has the skills and knowledge to be an effective advisory board. Amend the proposed ordinance to have the mayor in making appointments consider prior experience in law enforcement, victims’ services or advocacy, sexual assault or domestic violence services, and mental or behavioral health.
• Provide training within 90 days of appointment, on: Alaska Open Meetings Act; confidentiality, privacy, and due process rights for officers and civilians; rights of victims, defendants and targets of criminal investigations; racial equity issues; trauma -informed interview skills; and NPD’s Operations Procedures Manual.
The Council plans to have a work session in which they will discuss the ACLU suggestions prior to the next Council meeting.
In other business at its regular meeting, the Council:
Postponed pending a public hearing an ordinance amending City law on exemptions from personal and real estate taxes to include snow machines and ATVs held for personal use and subsistence use.
Passed a resolution approving a contract with Altman, Rogers and Co. for audit service for spending year 2019.The City has engaged the firm since 2009. The Council will consider putting the job out to bid in September or October.
Directed John K. Handeland, interim city manager to attempt to negotiate with Bering Straits Development Corp., the sole bidder, to reduce the $90K to $100K difference between what the City has in its budget and the bid for remodeling and expanding the restrooms at the Anvil City Science Academy charter school.
Handeland informed the Council that he had reissued the advertising for city manager applicants for 30 days, with a May 1 application deadline.