Harrisburg activists want review board with police, which decline

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- As cities across the United States deal with racial unrest with communities and their police forces, Harrisburg has managed to stay out of the negative national spotlight. A local activist group has a plan to keep it that way, but are facing a stiff test from Harrisburg Police.

This Stops Today Harrisburg is a local chapter of the national Black Lives Matter movement. In January, they released a 10-point plan to highlight ways to fix the racial injustice they feel still largely exists in the Harrisburg area. Its first point focuses directly on relations with the Harrisburg Police:

  1. The formation of a civilian complaint review board that independently investigates all uses of deadly and excessive force by police, in addition to charges of brutality, corruption, harassment and malfeasance.

"What we want to do is provide information to police that they're not getting," said Keith Bentz, an organizer with the This Stops Today group. "The way to do that is to have a more direct funnel of that information."

So far, the formation of the group's proposed civilian complaint review board (CCRB) is proving difficult.

Last week, a public safety meeting inside Harrisburg City Council chambers gave This Stop's Today its first chance to discuss a CCRB with Harrisburg Police Chief Tom Carter. The group maintains there is a "great distrust and disconnect between the police and its citizens." No decisions on the future of any board were made, although when asked about it Tuesday following Mayor Eric Papenfuse's State of the City address, Carter made it sound as if the creation of any review board would not be imminent.

"I think that a review board would be okay to have citizens and citizens to monitor the actions of other citizens, but not police officers right now," Carter said. "Police officers are under attack. They are being assassinated. They have a big burden enough as it is. I do not need any more attention put on my officers. I don't need them to feel that everything they are doing is being viewed under a microscope. That is dangerous."

Carter's response was met with understanding by This Stops Today, which is confident they'll be able to continue dialogue with the Chief whose work they applaud.

"It's not discouraging," Sarah Schubert said. "They know there are perception issues, nationwide, statewide, and here in Harrisburg. We'd like to bring to light what those issues are and be a mediating force."