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'It has no teeth' | Memphians calling on the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) to have more power to hold MPD accountable

CLERB, established in 1994, is an independent agency that has the authority to investigate allegations of misconduct within Memphis Police.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — As the Memphis Police Department leadership announces an "independent review" of all special units within the city’s police department, many who want to hold MPD more accountable are questioning the current power of the Memphis Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, also known as "CLERB."

CLERB is asking for more power to help in the reform many are now demanding. 

“I find that there is truly a need for more authority when it comes to police oversight for CLERB," James Kirkwood, the current Chairman of the CLERB said. 

CLERB, established in 1994, is an independent agency that has the authority to investigate allegations of misconduct within the MPD. Chairman Kirkwood says the need for more authority is more pressing now than ever, as five MPD officers have been terminated and some charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and kidnapping.

Memphis City Councilman J.B. Smiley said the board can only effectively operate if given the power to call accused officers forward and gather information directly. 

“It has no teeth," Smiley said. "It doesn’t have the power to subpoena. What makes CLERB effective is the power to subpoena individuals who are operating in the Memphis police department or individuals who are operating in various departments that are associated with crime or excessive force.”  

Kirkwood said the board can subpoena law enforcement officials but only through the city council member who sits on CLERB. That member(s) then brings it before the full council for a vote and the council ultimately approves or denies that request. And even then only council members can question those who are subpoenaed. 

It’s a slow reactive measure that Kirkwood says stifles proactive reform. 

“Stand up a strong office in CLERB with oversight," Kirkwood said. "Clear oversight more than just in police misconduct but in the training and in the policy-making.” 

Former interim chair of CLERB Ricky Floyd believes subpoena power is a great tool but the focus should be on rebuilding trust in MPD from the community.

“The police officers are going to have to gain the trust of the citizens of this city again," Floyd said. "And CLERB is the perfect opportunity to give them an opportunity to regain the trust of the city.” 

CLERB meets on the second Thursday of each month. Their next meeting is set for February 9.

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