Review board for cops?

May 5, 1999 at 12:00 am

Royal Oak commissioners are considering creating a police review board following allegations of anti-gay and other harassment.

However, the business people who initially proposed the review board expressed disappointment at the size and composition of the task force that commissioners decided would study the issue.

Commissioners voted 5-2 Monday to create an advisory task force on whether there should be a permanent citizens board to review complaints against the police. The task force would be made up of one commissioner and four citizens. It would also include police department representatives as nonvoting members.

"We’re trying to create a task force to take an independent and unbiased view of the workings of city government," said Jim Rasor, a Royal Oak lawyer and member of the Downtown Royal Oak Association, which proposed an 11-member task force drawing on various community groups and not including elected officials. "What we wound up with is a group of people appointed by the city commission who may or may not represent one certain point of view."

Mayor Dennis Cowan said, "I reject what seems to be an immediate discrediting of the committee. … We’ll have five citizens involved, one will happen to be a commissioner."

He called suggestions that the board will be politically biased "completely unfounded."

The proposal comes after residents at a previous council meeting complained of anti-gay harassment by the Royal Oak Police Department. In an alleged incident March 20, an off-duty police officer and his wife are accused of yelling anti-gay slurs and threatening Bill Krout, the co-owner of Decades Collectibles. The incident is said to have occurred at Decades on West Fourth Street, sometime after the officer’s son had allegedly thrown a stink bomb into the store.

Royal Oak Police Chief Mel Johnson says state police are investigating. Johnson says that complaint and others are isolated incidents and that there is no overall problem with his department.

In another complaint, a police officer is accused of calling a man derogatory names including "faggot" during an April 10 traffic arrest. And police have been accused of mishandling an incident last August in which a car carrying teenagers allegedly sideswiped Michael Sharp’s car, while the teens allegedly yelled anti-gay slurs at him and his passengers. Sharp was ticketed; the teens were not.

Following the allegations, the Downtown Royal Oak Association, a group of local merchants, submitted a draft ordinance to the council that would establish a citizens board for holding police accountable for their actions, DROA President Andy Sharkey said.

Johnson has said he would cooperate with the citizens review board if established.

"I don’t think I have a gay-bashing department, " he said. "I think there have been some incidents with some officers and we have to address those incidents."

Commissioner Laura Harrison said the council has received complaints of general harassment as well as anti-gay harassment by the police. She says one woman complained that a police officer yelled at her for driving in a construction zone when "all she wanted was directions."