Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Residents urge Harrisburg Council to empower proposed citizen’s police board

A Harrisburg police cruiser

Harrisburg City Council on Tuesday held its final regular session of the summer, but council plans to interrupt its seven-week hiatus to hold public hearings on two police-related issues.

Council member Ausha Green, who is chair of the public safety committee, said that she planned to hold at least two hearings over the summer on the issues—a revision of the city police use-of-force policy and, perhaps more significantly, a proposed Citizen’s Law Enforcement Advisory Committee.

“We will continue the discussion for both Bill 8 and Resolution 51 throughout our summer hiatus in a series of public meetings,” she said. “The dates will be confirmed and advertised in the near future.”

Her comments followed a lengthy reading of messages received by City Council regarding these issues during Tuesday’s virtual legislative session. Green said that council has received more than 40 public comments in all regarding the legislation.

Many comments, Green said, asked for subpoena power for the committee, proposed currently as a seven-member advisory board that would lack that power.

For example, a group of 31 city residents jointly submitted a letter to council asking that the advisory committee become a community review board with subpoena power to access internal police bureau documents and information.

“The right-to-know request serves as a good tool for seeking information as community members,” the statement said. “However, it doesn’t provide the full scope of documentation necessary to assess any wrongdoing within the police bureau. Administrative subpoena power is needed within the community review board, similar to the administrative subpoena power allowed through the tax board and zoning hearing board both of whom, as stated by [city solicitor] Mr. [Neil] Grover, hold administrative subpoena power to ensure that ethical procedures are followed.”

The city’s Environmental Advisory Council also contributed a group statement saying that Harrisburg should demonstrate leadership on creating more equality and fairness not only on police issues, but also for food, transportation and education, especially in communities of color.

“This is time to reflect on not only the silence and inaction that has plagued this country for decades and the devastating loss of life from this inaction, but also time to reimagine our communities and call for systemic change,” said the statement.

Other statements said that the police should routinely release more information, and one asked for paths for additional police accountability if subpoena powers—if granted—ultimately were judged not to be enforceable.

“I would also like to thank community organizations that have been holding public discussion to really continue the conversation in our community, such as the Young Professionals of Color,” Green said. “And I look forward to gaining more insight from residents as we continue this discussion.”

To view the full City Council meeting and hear all resident comments, visit the city’s recorded feed on YouTube.

Continue Reading