by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly
The new chairman of the Pensacola Citizen Police Advisory Committee intends to guide the group toward something tangible, something actionable.
“In the future I would like us to pivot to a more report-type function, similar to the transition team for the mayor,” said Drew Buchanan, fielding questions from committee members Dec. 1, just prior to his election.
Buchanan’s emphasis on producing a report aligns with the wishes of Mayor Grover Robinson, who stressed during the group’s most recent meeting the importance of organizing the committee’s various discussions and recommendations into a report by springtime.
“There are things that you’re asking for that will be budgetary,” Robinson told the committee. “For us to make it in this budget we really need that report to finish by the end March.”
Pensacola’s Citizen Police Advisory Committee, or CPAC, was formed following a 2019 police shooting of an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop. The group has spent its initial months discussing issues like mental health and exploring the boundaries of their mission.
Particularly, committee members have wandered aloud if CPAC might be granted the authority to dig into specific alleged instances of systemic racism within the Pensacola Police Department. Mayor Robinson reiterated at the Dec. 1 meeting that state law prevented the committee from taking any sort of investigatory role, and urged members to focus on municipal policies and procedures that the city had the power to address.
“We would like you to look at the things that we know we can do,” Robinson said. “Certainly there are things that we can’t do without state control, those will be issues that are not going to be decided here in Pensacola, they’re ultimately decided in Tallahassee.”
The mayor continued, explaining that he valued the committee’s discussion about issues such as the de-prioritization of low-level marijuana possession, but that such issues were outside the city’s purview.
“I totally understand the value in the discussion and why you’ve had those certain things, but again those are things that are outside of our ability to make those things happen,” he said. “And they’re certainly good for discussion and conversation, but, again, what we can actively change here in Pensacola without having to deal with Tallahassee, those are the things that we would certainly like you to look at and make those recommendations in your report that we get in March.”
Mayor Robinson suggested that the committee focus on the PPD’s policies and procedures, aspects of which the city has the ability to change.
“So, if we were to make a recommendation on the use of force policy —” committee member Kyle Cole began to inquire.
“Use of force would absolutely be within our parameters,” Robinson cut in. “If you want us to look at it, we will absolutely look at it.”
The mayor instructed the committee to include all elements of their discussions in a final report, but to prioritize recommendations based on the city’s ability to address the items.
“A report gives us something that we can take action on,” Robinson said.
“Sounds to me like we need to get busy putting together a report,” concluded committee member Charles Bare. “The faster we get that put together, the faster things can be looked at and worked on.”
A New Head
Also during the Dec. 1 meeting, CPAC elected its new chairman. The committee’s previous head, Rev. Joseph Marshall, is stepping down due to outside obligations and health issues.
In bidding Marshall farewell, Mayor Robinson thanked him for “stepp[ing] into a challenging committee for a challenging issue.”
“You certainly set the tone for us, taking up a delicate issue,” the mayor said.
Rev. Marshall implored committee members to continue their work, offering some words of counsel going forward and also connecting the microcosm of Pensacola to a larger national conversation about systemic racism within law enforcement.
“Upon me coming on board, my heart was in this and it still is,” Marshall said. “And my prayers and my thoughts will continue to be with this committee. It definitely is a ship that has to navigate its way through these waters and the social unrest and injustices that are presently present in our country in which we live, but I certainly pray that y’all will continue to press forward in that regard and stay focused on exactly why we’re here.”
Though CPAC members initially threw multiple considerations onto the table — including committee member Vic Durant and Vice Chairman Jonathan Green — their choice ultimately came down to Buchanan and Kyle Cole.
“In my humble opinion, the people who have the less personal experience with our issues are the better spokesman as a committee leader,” CPAC member Autumn Blackledge contended.
Much of CPAC’s discussion pertains to the relationship between law enforcement and the local Black community. Buchanan is white, whereas Cole — who has often relayed his personal experiences with law enforcement during committee discussions — is Black.
Blackledge — who has previously complained about Marshall’s interjections during CPAC meetings — suggested that a talkative chair tends to “stifle some of the conversation” and that she’d prefer a “logistic leader,” as opposed to “somebody who wants to talk on every motion.”
“Just, quite frankly, I’d rather hear from Kyle on every motion than Drew,” Blackledge said.
Buchanan told committee members that he “wouldn’t necessarily dial my opinions back” and Cole said that he possessed both “an unbiased opinion” and “experience.” Both Buchanan and Cole said they would be focused on directing the committee’s discussions toward a final report.
Prior to securing the chairmanship on a 6-3 vote, Buchanan acknowledged the sensitive nature of the position, as well as the committee itself.
“This is a complicated committee obviously, so no one’s first intention is to say, ‘Oh yeah, pick me for chair, that sounds like a fantastic job,’ respectfully,” he said. “But I’d certainly be willing to step up if the committee would like me to.”