CHAPEL HILL - The town's new police advisory board voted 8-1 last week to reject the Town Council's request to use a website to solicit comments on the Yates Motor raid.
The Community Policing Advisory Committee, which had asked for an outside investigator to look into the Nov. 13 raid, said a website would not produce reliable information.
After listening to the committee Wednesday night, Town Council member Jim Ward, who was among those who had supported the website, said he was "fully swayed" by its objections.
"I'm convinced it's not the way to go," he said.
Committee member Jessica Smith, an attorney who had proposed the investigator, said the website would not help establish a factual record of events on which to base policy recommendations, the group's main charge.
"It makes no sense for me to review something you have absolutely no means to test the veracity of," she said. "This proposal is just one step further down the road of degraded information."
Committee chairman Ron Bogle said no process is perfect and even an investigation by an outsider would be a "random process" because the investigator could not compel testimony.
But a website, he and the committee agreed, might make trying to understand the raid even harder, because people could anonymously say whatever they want as many times as they want.
"Quite frankly I think it's just going to lead to more community upset," Smith said. If the town thinks it needs to create a website for political reasons, it should do so, she said, but that doesn't mean it will be getting a factual account of what happened.
"It gives a false sense of doing something that we're not," she said.
Committee member James Kitchen cast the dissenting vote, suggesting even anonymous comments might have value.
The council had asked the committee to work with town staff on a website that could let witnesses provide information without identifying or incriminating themselves. The latter concern was one reason the town gave for rejecting the investigator request.
But Town Council member Laurin Easthom, who also attended Wednesday's meeting, reminded the committee that the town left the door open to reconsidering an investigator if the committee felt substantial gaps remained after it reviewed the incident.
"Don't forget that that option still exists," she said. "It is a part of the resolution, and it does exist."Eight charged
Police led by a Special Emergency Response Team charged eight people with misdemeanors in the November raid, after a group of self-described "anti-capitalist occupiers" entered the building at 419 W. Franklin St. and announced plans to turn it into a community center with a proposed daycare, clinic and beds for the homeless.
The raid, in which police pointed assault rifles and guns at people's heads, has divided the community. Some say police overreacted. Others defend the response, saying the activists were on private property and no one got hurt. Town Manager Roger Stancil and Police Chief Chris Blue have said the raid gives the town and police a chance to improve policies for handling future incidents.
Instead of working with the website, the advisory committee agreed to tell the Town Council it wants to work with a consultant the town has hired to review policies and recommend changes.
Committee members Roscoe Reeve and Smith came up with 10 initial areas they'd like the committee to examine:
Equipping and deploying the SERT
Securing an incident site
Dealing with the media
Protocols for supervision and decision making
Intelligence gathering and threat assessment
Mutual assistance plans
Internal investigations by both the town and police
Internal and external communication during incidents
Communication with town advisory committees
Ward encouraged the committee to be active players.
"I would like to have you ask that you be part of this process, that you are not just sitting on the sidelines," he said.
Chief Blue, who also attended the meeting, said he and the consultant will update the committee at its March meeting.