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New police oversight proposed; Lukes to ask Council to study feasibility of civilian review panel.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER -- A city councilor is resurrecting the idea of a civilian police review board in the wake of a police officer's arrest last week in which he was accused of assaulting a 48-year-old man in the cell room at police headquarters.

Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes said Tuesday she will ask the City Council to have City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. report on the feasibility of establishing such an independent board.

As part of that report, Mrs. Lukes said, she wants information on the applicability of a budget, staff, subpoena powers and investigatory powers of such a review board, with a goal of making determinations on merits of every citizen complaint regarding police conduct.

In addition, she is asking whether the board could provide citizen input to the city manager on police programs, policies and procedures, all "to promote community confidence in the Worcester Police Department while respecting the rights of both the police and complainants.''

Mrs. Lukes said she will also seek to have The Research Bureau update its previous report on civilian police review boards.

The councilor said she is simply looking for information at this time on the feasibility of an independent review board that would look into citizen complaints against the police.

Mrs. Lukes said she intends to bring both items before her colleagues at the council's meeting on April 28. Her orders were not on the council's agenda for Tuesday night.

Mrs. Lukes said she could not introduce them under suspension of the rules because such an action would not meet the state's Open Meeting Law provisions of being "reasonably anticipated.''

''I wanted to give the council and public notice, because it may, or may not, warrant further public discussion and input,'' she said.

On Thursday, Police Officer Michael Motyka, a 17-year department veteran, was arrested after an internal investigation and placed on paid administrative leave pending a termination hearing.

According to police, a man filed a complaint in March and told investigators in the Police Department's Bureau of Professional Standards that he had been assaulted by Officer Motyka in the cell room while he awaited transfer to the Worcester County Courthouse for arraignment Dec. 1.

The Bureau of Professional Standards investigated and found probable cause to charge Officer Motyka. The officer was charged with assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (shod foot), and a civil rights violation.

Under Worcester's charter, the city manager is the chief conservator of the peace. That gives the manager the power to review and investigate cases involving complaints against the police, including the use of the city solicitor, or outside counsel, to investigate complaints.

Establishing a civilian review board to investigate complaints against the police is a subject that Worcester residents have raised a number of times over the years.

Perhaps the biggest outcry for a civilian review board came after the death of Cristino W. Hernandez, who died in 1993 from injuries suffered during an arrest outside his family home.

Proponents of civilian review have argued that it ensures impartial investigations and improves police-community relations, while opponents have suggested that such boards tend to be biased against the police.

In 1994, The Research Bureau did a report that looked into the pros and cons of citizen review boards.

In its report, The Research Bureau said the evidence at that time suggested that civilian review boards do not sustain complaints at a higher level than review mechanisms internal to the police department.

If fact, the bureau said it found that civilian review boards are "slightly less likely to reach a finding of police misconduct, and they tend to provide more procedural safeguards to officers than do police internal affairs divisions.''

"Given the questionable effectiveness of civilian review elsewhere, The Research Bureau is not convinced that it should be implemented in Worcester,'' the bureau concluded in its 1994 report.

Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh recently said he intends to overhaul the Police Department's citizen oversight panel in Boston in the aftermath of high-profile police shootings and amid continuing concern about the board's effectiveness.

The citizen police oversight panel was established in Boston in 2007, but some in Boston feel it has failed to have much of an impact because of the limited powers it was granted.

Contact Nick Kotsopoulos at Follow him on Twitter @NCKotsopoulos
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Kotsopoulos, Nick
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 16, 2015
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