By Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly
Two months into their charge, Pensacola’s Citizen Police Advisory Committee members are entertaining an identity crisis. Who are they? What is it? What are the possibilities and limitations of this endeavor?
These are questions committee Chairman Rev. Joseph Marshall hears a lot from constituents, many of whom are under the impression that the municipal body exercises oversight over the Pensacola Police Department.
“What can we do?” Marshall relayed his typical response during CPAC’s meeting Tuesday. “To be honest with you, there is nothing that we can do.”
During this week’s meeting, members discussed the committee’s effectiveness, compared the local body to similar committees across the country, and wondered if they should be doing more.
“Though this is new for us, it’s not new across the country,” Marshall said, detailing data that indicated that committees that served in an oversight, rather than merely advisory, role appeared to be more beneficial to communities.
The chairman asked members if the local committee was aiming to “debunk the data” and maintain a purely advisory role or if it should request some oversight authority, which would allow for an investigatory function. “Do we attempt to push forward to something else that is more proven, based on the data, that actually works?”
Committee member Hale Morrissette said that she would prefer the committee have an oversight role but that such an evolution was unlikely to occur. Morrissette is a leader of the member of Pensacola Dream Defenders, which pushed for the formation of CPAC following the July 2019 fatal shooting by a former PPD detective of Tymar Crawford
“The original intention of this committee was to be an oversight, and we were told that we could legally not be an oversight committee in the state of Florida,” Morrissette said. “Until the people get on the ground and get that to legislation, that’s not something that’s going to happen. Because that was a fight, tooth-and-nail fight.”
Cedric Alexander, a retired law enforcement officer, hired by the city to work with both CPAC and the PPD, told committee members that he understood the frustration with an advisory role’s inherent limits.
“I appreciate y’all’s energy around this and thoughtfulness,” he said.
Alexander suggested they request that Mayor Grover Robinson clarify the committee’s mission and also consider if that scope is sufficient or if perhaps CPAC might “need more meat on this bone.”
“Is what he’s asking for a reality, or do you need more or less?” he said. “What exactly are we doing? Are we advising? Are we oversighting?”
Lawrence Powell, the city’s neighborhood administrator — and the only staff member present at the meeting, as numerous staff members are quarantining due to COVID exposure — attempted to clarify the committee’s mission as previously outlined by Mayor Robinson.
“I think it’s clearly his intent is for it be advisory. Does that mean it cannot change? I’m not saying that,” Powell said. “I think your struggle is not so much what you’ve been charged with, but as you move down this road you realize that there’s some issues that might require something other than advisory. And I get that. And the mayor, he may be watching, he gets it also.”
Chairman Steps Down
This week’s CPAC meeting also saw Chairman Marshall inform committee members that he would be stepping down from his position.
“I’m going to have to step down as chair,” he said. “Not only am I going to have to step down as chair, but as a committee member.”
Marshall explained that there were three reasons for his departure. First, there is next week’s installation of a new District 5 city council representative. Marshall was appointed to CPAC by Councilman John Jerralds, who was himself appointed to the city council following the death of Councilman Gerald Wingate. The chairman’s departure will allow incoming council member Teniade Broughton to select her appointment to the committee.
But Marshall said his decision to step down was also influenced by his “ministerial obligations,” as well as “unforeseen health issues that have reoccured.” The chairman will continue to serve on CPAC for one more meeting to provide Broughton ample time to select a new appointee.
Also, during this week’s CPAC meeting, members approved a recommendation to the city to partner with East Pensacola Student Athlete Program, Inc., which runs the Pensacola Rattlers football and cheerleading program. The partnership would be designed to improve the relationship between community members and the PPD, as well as build trust between the two.
This partnership, if pursued, could entail police officers participating in EPSAP activities, such as volunteering at ballgames, as well as making regular presentations to youth involved in the sports programs. The city could also participate in marketing and fundraising activities for the organization.