Accident prompts civilian review board debate

RALEIGH Most other major cities in the state have one, but not the state's capital city.

It all started when Donna Pilch was driving down Capital Boulevard during morning rush hour traffic.

"I don't know how it happened," Pilch said. "We just had what was a surprise, shocking, side by side collision, in a curved road, where the lanes are narrow."

Pilch says she and the other driver pulled over and a police officer showed up and suggested they exchange information. Then, another man with a badge showed up. One from North Carolina State and one who, Pilch says, shared the same last name as the other driver. Pilch says the two officers talked out of earshot and then the first came back taking a much different approach.

"He said the accident was probably your fault, so I'm giving you a citation for an unsafe lane change," Pilch said. "I was dumbfounded. I couldn't even believe that he suggested to me that the accident was my fault."

Pilch complained to the police department wanting the ticket dismissed since neither officer witnessed the accident. Then she emailed the city manager.

"He said, people don't complain about the police in Raleigh," she said.

Russell Allen e-mailed Pilch and said that he'd reviewed the case and found no wrongdoing.

"Upon investigation I found that the officer used his best judgment to find probable cause," Allen wrote. "The courts are now the appropriate venue to determine if there is fault."

"They can do and say anything they want, because we don't have a Raleigh civilian review board," Pilch said.

In fact, Raleigh and Fayetteville are the state's only major cities that don't have civilian review boards.

Raleigh's mayor says that's because the city does not need one.

"It's one of those things where we've had fairly few incidents that have required any further discussion and they were handled by the internal review board of the police department," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

But internal reviews aren't public information, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union is an advocate for civilian review boards. Much of what they discuss can be made public.

The North Carolina Sheriffs and Police Alliance also endorses the idea of a review board for a different reason.

"We advocate community oriented policing and if it would build trust between us and the community, then that is a step we need to take,"a spokesperson said.

But Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan disagrees completely.

"My experience with civilian review boards is they're not very effective," Dolan said. "If anything I think they drive a wedge between the community and their police department."

Dolan says they are also expensive and inefficient.

"There's a system called the courts, when you have a traffic citation issue to take it to the court," Dolan said. "That's what even a civilian review board would say at first."

However, that is not how it works in Durham. There, complaints go to internal affairs first and then to the review board, which can look at a case and recommend a different resolution to the city council.

Pilch says she wishes Raleigh would do the same, but knows her last resort will likely be the courts.

Talk of a review board came up in Raleigh a few years back, but nothing came of it. If you have an opinion on it, officials say your best bet is to tell your city councilors.

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