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Huntsville City Council votes to expand HPCAC to 13 members

The Huntsville City Council has voted to expand the number of members of the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council to 13 members, among other changes.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Editor's note: The attached video was published on June 9, 2021.

BREAKING: The Huntsville City Council has voted to expand the number of members of the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council to 13 members, among other changes.

Councilmember John Meredith withdrew an agenda item that was scheduled for a vote that would have updated the Huntsville Police Department's policies regarding the public release of body-worn camera video.

In its place, Meredith introduced the following resolution expressing the council's intent for HPD to continue publishing written directive's on the city's website.

During the discussion of this resolution, Councilmember Devyn Keith said it is important to give an explanation in incidents in which body-worn camera footage is not shown. He said the city must provide tangible public accountability in these situations.

"After we've confirmed what happened, after we've had issue understood, we need to have something that allows us to make a decision to have public consumption," said Keith. "It means a lot that we have the ability for those who were involved, but individuals who are around the community have value as well, if we deem that the information, the body-cam, the camera's and such, can have public consumption."

Councilmember Akridge responded to Keith in disagreement, claiming that if it was up to city council whether to release body-worn camera footage it would take power away from internal affairs.

Council President Jennie Robinson restricted the discussion back to the agenda item up for discussion at this point.

Following discussion, the council voted to approve the resolution.

Councilmember Keith said he would be bringing an amendment for the council to discuss at the next city council meeting.

Proposed changes to HPCAC

The Huntsville City Council on July 8 postponed voting on amending the part of the city code that defines the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Committee.

The ordinance, agenda item 13.b. is sponsored by councilmembers Frances Akridge (District 2) and Bill Kling (District 4).

The ordinance, which was introduced on June 24, would increase the number of HPCAC members from 10 to 13 representatives, each appointed by council members and the mayor, among other changes.

Purpose of HPCAC | Section 2-2132

Section 2-2132 of Huntsville's Code of Ordinances Chapter 2 Article XI defines the purpose of HPCAC.

The proposed changes in Section 2-2132 update and replaces the currently existing language of the code. The new Section 2-2132 would read as follows: 

  1. To promote productive police and community interaction by assisting the police in achieving a greater understanding of the complex social fabric of the community.
  2. To provide an effective organization that will address the concerns of the community by promoting cooperative citizen-police programs that will improve the outcomes of police and citizen interactions and community policing. The HPCAC advocates the principle that the administration of equitable law enforcement includes community involvement and personal responsibility. 
  3. To recommend procedures, programs, organizational structure or legislation to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the police department. 
  4. To keep the chief of police, city council, and the mayor apprised of actions taken by the department which create community concern or controversy. 
  5. To foster trust between the police department and the community, thereby ensuring equal protection and service for all citizens.

Role of HPCAC | Section 2-2133

Section 2-2133 of Huntsville's Code of Ordinances Chapter 2 Article XI defines the role of HPCAC.

The proposal entirely rewrites Section 2-2133. The new Section 2-2133 would read as follows: 

The HPCAC will serve in an advisory capacity to the police department on behalf of citizens regarding issues relevant to police and community relations including, but not limited to: 

  1. Reviewing a summary of all complaints on record with the internal affairs division and evaluate trends; 
  2. Evaluating conditions of employment (both civilian and sworn personnel) including recruiting, hiring, training, disciplinary actions, firing, and promotional practices of both civilian and sworn personnel; 
  3. Participating in the annual report and strategic plan outlining objectives, challenges, and successes; 
  4. Participate in the Incident Review Board by assignment from the Chairman.

Responsibilities of HPCAC | Section 2-2134

Section 2-2134 Huntsville's Code of Ordinances Chapter 2 Article XI defines the responsibilities of HPCAC members.

Proposed changes to Section 2-2134 build on the existing code. The proposal defines an Incident Review Board, which would review officer use of force incidents. The new Section 2-2134 would read as follows: 

  1. To conduct themselves in a manner becoming of a member of the Advisory Council and its purpose. 
  2. To meet on a monthly basis with command staff of the police department and when meetings are deemed necessary either by the HPCAC chairman or the chief of police. 
  3. To review a summary of the disposition of all complaints or disciplinary actions from the internal affairs division and request additional information about a case, as needed, in order to make recommendations to the chief of police. 
  4. To participate on a rotating basis after training on use of force in all officer involved shooting incidents, also known as an incident review board (IRB). 
  5. To provide a quarterly summary of activities to the city council in a regularly scheduled public meeting. 
  6. To proactively engage citizens across all socio-economic sectors to foster better police and community relations. 
  7. To facilitate communication between the police department and the community regarding general issues and concerns expressed by citizens that have been presented to individual members of the HPCAC, a police officer, or brought before the HPCAC during a scheduled meeting. The HPCAC is not, in any circumstance, a replacement for the activity of the internal affairs division and will not submit a complaint on behalf of a citizen to the internal affairs division. 
  8. To aide police in identifying trouble areas requiring special police or other governmental actions. 
  9. To educate citizens with regard to police responsibilities and limitations. 
  10. To provide opportunity for the development of mutual understanding and respect between citizens and the police.

Membership of HPCAC | Section 2-2135

Section 2-2135 of Huntsville's Code of Ordinances Chapter 2 Article XI defines the membership of the HPCAC.

The proposed changes to Section 2-2135 include the expansion of the number of members from 10 to 13 and further defines how each member would be appointed. It would also require members to take time to learn about certain aspects of police work through various opportunities.

The new Section 2-2135 would read as follows: 

  1. The HPCAC shall be comprised of citizens who are both highly respectful of community needs and perceptions as well as holding professional police officers in high regard while expecting accountability. Citizens who are appointed shall demonstrate the ability to be objective through experience that requires strong interpersonal relationship skills and a highly developed sense of compassion and empathy. Ideally, appointees will have invested time in activities to foster good community relations with police such as community watch initiatives and safety festivals. After appointment, every member shall make a commitment to complete two of any these opportunities within approximately 18 months of appointment to learn about police work: Crisis Intervention Training short course Why Police do what they do Citizen Police Academy Once a year in their term, the members shall complete a Ride Along in second or third shift, confirmation bias and implicit bias training. 
  2. HPCAC members shall be appointed by city council and the mayor with the intention to represent the community at large. 
  3. HPCAC members must be citizens of Huntsville and pass a background check performed by the internal affairs division of the police department. No member shall have any pending criminal charges or convictions for crimes within the last ten (10) years. 
  4. The HPCAC shall be made up of thirteen (13) members. The members shall be nominated for appointment as follows: three (3) by the mayor from the city at large and two (2) by each member of the city council with places as follows:
    Places 1, 2 & 3: Mayor at large
    Places 4 & 5: Council member District 1
    Places 6 & 7: Council member District 2
    Places 8 & 9: Council member District 3
    Places 10 & 11: Council member District 4
    Places 12 & 13: Council member District 5
    All current HPCAC members as of August 1, 2021 shall be placed in numbered places. 
  5. At the enactment of this ordinance, the initial terms for all odd-numbered places shall be two (2) years, and initial terms for all even-numbered places shall be four (4) years. As initial terms expire, all subsequent terms shall be for four (4) years 
  6. The HPCAC shall elect a chairman, vice-chairman, and secretary in the first meeting after November 1 of each year to serve a one-year term. 
  7. The HPCAC will be supported by staff of the city communication department and an administrative assistant employed by the city to publish meeting notices, minutes, and promote outreach activities planned by the members and approved by the officers. 
  8. The City shall appropriate in the annual budget funding required for HPCAC events and operations in addition to staff.

HPCAC Meetings | Section 2-2136

Section 2-2136 of Huntsville's Code of Ordinances Chapter 2 Article XI defines how the HPCAC shall meet. The proposed changes to Section 2-2136 reword and redefine when the meetings shall be conducted and introduce the requirement of an agenda for each meeting.

The new Section 2-2136 would read as follows:

  1. All meetings shall be held in a public forum at a timeframe or manner conducive to public participation and announced in advance. Closed meetings may be conducted as permitted in accordance with the Code of Ala. 1975, §36-25A-7. 
  2. The HPCAC will meet at least once a month. The agenda shall be determined by the Chairman and published at least forty-eight (48) hours in advance of the meeting. 
  3. All requests for information from the HPCAC regarding the police department will be forwarded to the chief of police. 
  4. The HPCAC will address concerns which may require action outside the scope of the police department’s authority by forwarding the concern and recommendations to the mayor and city council for action. 
  5. Problems or concerns that can be addressed by the police department shall be forwarded to the chief of police.

Duties of HPCAC Officers | Section 2-2137

Section 2-2137 of Huntsville's Code of Ordinances Chapter 2 Article XI defines the duties of HPCAC officers.

The new proposal introduces minor changes to the wording and procedures of Section 2-2137. The new Section 2-2137 would read as follows:

  1.  Chairman. 
    1. The chairman shall preside over all meetings of the HPCAC in a manner conducive to its purpose. 
    2. The chairman will forward all written communications including minutes from the HPCAC to the chief of police, the mayor, and the city council. 
  2. Vice-chairman. The vice-chairman shall preside in the absence or inability of the chairman, or when requested to do so by the chairman. 
  3. Secretary. 
    1. The secretary or their designee shall record the minutes of all HPCAC meetings. 
    2. Minutes shall be made available to all members on or before the next scheduled meeting and available to the public upon acceptance by the council. 
    3. Notices shall be sent to all members reminding them of HPCAC meetings (dates, times, and locations).

HPCAC Attendance | Section 2-2138

Section 2-2138 of Huntsville's Code of Ordinances Chapter 2 Article XI defines the meeting attendance requirements of HPCAC.The proposal makes a change to the allowed number of missed meetings. The new Section 2-2138 would read as follows: 

Members are expected to attend meetings. Any member missing more than three meetings in a 12 month period may be replaced by the appropriate appointing authority.

HPCAC Resignation | Section 2-2139

Section 2-2139 of Huntsville's Code of Ordinances Chapter 2 Article XI defines the resignation of HPCAC members. The proposal rewrites Section 2-2139. The new Section 2-2139 would read as follows:

When a member can no longer fulfill their duties, the member should submit a letter of resignation to the appointing authority. It will be the responsibility of the original appointing authority to appoint a replacement to complete the unexpired term.

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Should this ordinance be approved at the July 22 Huntsville City Council Meeting, these changes would go into effect on August 1, 2021.

The WZDX News Team will update this story as it develops.

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