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Police union opposes review panel

The union that represents St. Petersburg police officers said Friday that police are capable of policing themselves and criticized the black community leader who says they can't. The Police Benevolent Association (PBA) of Pinellas County said it opposes setting up a civilian review board to conduct investigations of police brutality.

PBA officials also said Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Sevell Brown, who has proposed a civilian review board, has never familiarized himself with how police investigate allegations of police brutality.

"Sevell Brown has never come into the St. Petersburg Police Department to review an internal affairs investigation," PBA executive director Jim LauBach said.

Brown said Friday that internal affairs has treated victims of police brutality poorly and has resisted his requests for information.

Brown, who has conducted several public meetings to hear complaints of excessive force by police, asked the City Council last month to set up a civilian review panel with the power to subpoena witnesses and punish officers.

Police Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger, who opposes creation of a civilian review board, said Friday that the group discussed the issue earlier this week.

"I believe their report . . . is going to say they're not interested in doing anything like that, that they don't see the need for it," Curtsinger said.

During a Friday afternoon news conference, PBA officials said everyone already has the right to review any internal affairs case once it has been completed. If complainants don't agree with the outcome, they can file suit or ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate. They also said that the Justice Department recently found that four allegations of brutality referred by Brown were unfounded.

Brown said the Justice Department's inaction on the cases re-emphasizes the need for local citizen review of police misconduct. He said that SCLC national president Joseph Lowery, who is attending a local SCLC public meeting, will present allegations of police brutality from St. Petersburg and four other cities to the Justice Department, the House Judiciary Committee and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.