MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The chairman of Memphis’ Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board talked to city council members this week about the need for investment in the board following the death of Tyre Nichols last month.
The Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, also known as CLERB, is an independent agency with the authority to investigate allegations of police misconduct. It was created back in 1994 and there have been multiple failed attempts to give the group more power.
James Kirkwood is the Chairman of CLERB and a retired Memphis Police Colonel. He has spent more than 30 years with the department.
“Police misconduct is real! It’s real! And we have to do something about it,” he said. “When we look at today, our Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board is absolutely inadequate.”
Kirkwood shared stats of the hundreds of police complaints made by citizens over the last few years, a stark contrast to the number of cases CLERB listened to. In the last four years combined, the board has only heard 16 cases.
Kirkwood, who took on the role as chairman at the end of 2020, is calling for a $1.5 million budget.
“We don’t have enough people, staffing in CLERB to be able to handle. If you don’t want them to do any work, don’t give them the staff to do it, and so you handicap CLERB,” he said. “We need investigators. We need policy specialists. We need media specialists.”
Kirkwood is also calling for community liaisons to spread the word about CLERB, what it does, and a CLERB attorney.
“The chief needs some other voices other than her police,” he said.
He said something is needed to interrupt the system and cited Nashville’s law enforcement review board as a working example.
He said in Nashville’s case, there is a memo of understanding their police department has agreed to send officers when requested to their review board and suggested something similar here in Memphis.
“You have to give it teeth in honor of Tyre Nichols. You have to make a change, y’all,” Kirkwood said.
The $1.5 million ask is for the council to consider in their upcoming budget discussions.