Harrisburg City Council held the first of three town hall meetings tonight on a proposed Citizens Law Enforcement Advisory Committee, meeting with substantial pushback from residents who attended the virtual gathering.
Around 50 residents participated, and most who spoke did not approve of the legislation, Bill 8, that would create the proposed board.
The most discussed aspect of the bill over the past weeks, which was reiterated on Thursday night, is the lack of board subpoena and independent investigative powers. Some residents believe the advisory board should be a more powerful review board.
“I don’t believe this bill would be a step in towards accountability,” resident Rachel Peacock said. “It seems like a horse-and-pony show.”
Others echoed the complaint that the board, as currently proposed, lacks sufficient power, and some added that residents should have a say in who is appointed to the board. Currently, the bill states that City Council would appoint four members and the mayor would choose three.
The bill also states that Harrisburg’s police commissioner would sit on the board without voting power. Appointed board members would also be required to attend police academy training or participate in a police ride-along.
“I can imagine a chilling effect if the chief of police is sitting on the citizens’ advisory board,” resident Vishal Bajpai said.
One of the most repeated criticisms was the accessibility of the meeting itself. A majority of residents was frustrated by the virtual format, which required participants to watch a live-streamed meeting through YouTube and call in to speak. Many also didn’t think the three-day’s notice of the event was enough lead time.
“It doesn’t seem like City Council is making it easy for people to have their voices heard,” Bajpai said.
There will be two more town hall meetings on the bill, according to council member Ausha Green, the chair of the public safety committee. The next will be held virtually on Aug. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. and the following on Aug. 18 in Reservoir Park.
“It’s important for us to have everyone’s voices as a part of our decision,” Green said. “We will look to make changes through amendments.”