Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board requests $1.5 million for more members

Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 10:23 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2023 at 10:28 PM CST

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A civilian board designed to monitor, investigate, and review police conduct in Memphis has never been fully equipped with that authority.

The chairman of the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board or CLERB is speaking out after sounding the alarm to city leaders Tuesday.

CLERB has been in Memphis since 1994. In its nearly 30-year existence, the chairman says CLERB has never had investigative power or authority to audit and monitor the police department to give answers to the public.

Now, they’re asking for over a million in funding to get those answers.

The Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board is an independent board designed to be a watchdog for police conduct in Memphis.

Chairman James Kirkwood said the board needs teeth.

“While we have been in existence, nothing has changed,” said CLERB Chairman James Kirkwood. “A whole lot of things have changed around civilian law enforcement review boards nationwide. But Memphis, our Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board remains the same without the authority to subpoena, the authority to investigate, the authority to audit or to even monitor.”

Kirkwood says since 1994 CLERB has been continually denied that power by city leaders.

CLERB currently has the power to hear and review complaints from citizens.

“We know that negative police behavior exists, and the public knows,” said Kirkwood. “What the public wants is an avenue they can really come and voice their complaints, be heard and someone will be a voice to them back with the chief of police or the mayor.”

MPD internal affairs have received hundreds of complaints from citizens over the last couple of years.

Between 2019 and 2021, 1,641 complaints were filed by the public to internal affairs.

Kirkwood says CLERB received 159 complaints and heard 11 of them.

The board heard five cases in 2022.

Kirkwood says only having three staff members is to blame.

He says Nashville’s board has 14 members with the power to investigate complaints, conduct audits, review policy, and make recommendations to the chief of police there.

He’s asking the city council for $1.5 million, the same as Nashville’s budget, to fund 10 staff positions, including three investigators, an MPD policy specialist, two auditors/monitors, a community liaison, an administrative assistant for the executive director, a digital staff person, and attorney specifically for the group to provide oversight and transparency to the public.

“For now 30 years, CLERB has not been as effective as it could have been,” said Kirkwood. “I’m optimistic that it will be.”

Council has asked CLERB to put their budget request for the council’s next budget season.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

Click here to report a spelling or grammar error. Please include the headline.