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Medford council, police chief want to revamp advisory panel

MEDFORD — Citing dismal public turnout and a lack of proper focus, the Medford City Council and police chief are seeking to revamp the Communications Advisory Committee right down to its very name.

Medford police Chief Randy Schoen began thinking of ways to improve the CAC the moment he took control of the department in 2007.

"Fortunately, the City Council asked me recently to provide a plan to change the board to better suit our needs," Schoen said. "I am grateful they opened the door for change."

The CAC is a five-member citizens committee created in 1996 to address complaints about city departments, particularly police, and to improve communication between City Hall and residents. At the time, Medford police had come under fire for allegedly beating a Hispanic man while yelling racial epithets, though a preliminary department investigation found the allegations were false and officers used reasonable force.

The bulk of the committee's time over the years has been directed to police issues, as it is the department that works directly with the public on a day-to-day basis.

A typical meeting involves board members discussing comment cards left by residents. The goal is to address complaints against officers and to ask police representatives about policy issues that could fix the problems related on the cards.

However, meetings have dwindled over the years. Most of the time the board speaks before an empty chamber.

"Most of the time you can't get people to come unless they are invited," Schoen said. "You don't get a lot of feedback."

Schoen believes the board does not represent various segments of the community such as schools, business leaders and minorities.

"These groups could bring more interest to the meetings if they are allowed to serve on the board," Schoen said.

As it stands, anyone can serve on the board and many end up as members because no one else applied, Schoen said.

CAC board member Porter Lombard agrees that the board currently doesn't do enough to address policing issues.

"We on the board agree with Chief Schoen that a change is needed," Lombard said. "I think it would be better to focus more on specific policies. We hope that would do more to bring people to the meetings."

Part of the problem stems from the sharp decrease in complaints generated by the police department in recent years.

Soon after the board was formed, the department fielded more than 100 complaints a year on 63,000 calls for service.

In 2008, the department logged 70 complaints on 85,222 calls for services.

"Even though our complaints are becoming fewer we still believe there is value to hearing the public's thoughts on what we do," Schoen said.

Schoen would like to expand the board to include one citizen from each ward, a school district employee, one or two minority community leaders, a faith-based community leader, a City Council member and business owners. Current board members also could apply.

"The thinking is these people represent groups who see a lot of our services," Schoen said. "We believe they could inspire those they work with to attend the meetings."

Prospective members would pass a background check, provide references and be willing to commit to two years of service.

Schoen presented the plan before the City Council on Thursday. The council agreed to weigh Schoen's presentation and could return with recommended changes in the coming weeks.

The overhaul would extend to the board's name. Schoen would like to do away with the CAC moniker and call the panel the Chief's Advisory Board.

"We feel that gearing it specifically toward police issues would be beneficial to us," Schoen said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471 or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.