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Another Police CRB member steps down; board considers investigation models

The Charlottesville Civilian Review Board has lost an appointed member as the search to fill its body continues.

During Thursday’s meeting, it was revealed that Phillip Seay, the non-voting law enforcement representative, had resigned after moving away from the area. Seay was unanimously appointed to the board by the City Council last June. He was the only applicant for the position.

The CRB is still seeking to fill a previous vacancy on the board for a position representing a traditionally marginalized community. As of last month, the board had not received any applications and an update on the search was not given by press deadline Thursday.

The meeting also saw a presentation from Sarah Burke, a member of the initial CRB, and Teresa Hepler on ways the board could investigate complaints following an upcoming legal change.

Come July 1, city councils and county boards of supervisors statewide can create police civilian review boards to examine use-of-force complaints and cases involving deaths and serious injuries while in custody, among other concerns.

Unlike the current Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board, which has little power, the law allows panels a variety of investigative powers, including the authority to ask circuit court judges to subpoena records, which was discussed during Thursday’s meeting.

Burke and Hepler’s presentation outlined a model of how the CRB could use this new law to investigate a community complaint without an internal affairs investigation.

Board member Jeff Fracher pointed out that Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney already has expressed a dislike of CRB-led investigations and that the board should expect pushback.

Nancy Carpenter, the board’s social justice representative, said the board should consider Brackney’s perspective but that greater consideration should be given to what is good for the public.

“We have to gain the trust of the people and I guess the police department, in some capacity, but the legislature gave localities this kind of power for a reason,” Carpenter said. “We’re laying the groundwork for the future of public safety, in a way.”

Burke agreed with Carpenter and referenced several studies that show that racial disparities in arrests and police shootings and killings are reduced in communities that have oversight boards similar to what the CRB is considering.

Hepler assured the board that the model they were presented was not intended to be inflexible or final.

“This is how this can work and this is sort of the starting point,” she said. “This isn’t the end of the road — there are certainly things that can be added to or taken away.”

Later in the meeting, Chairman Bellamy Brown said he wasn’t sure that there was an appetite for this particular model among the city councilors, at least three of whom would need to support the CRB’s future models.

Burke said the CRB should focus on what the public needs and wants and keep that in the forefront of their minds when discussing models with the council.

“Just filing complaints and operating as usual is not working, so something needs to change,” Burke said. “Maybe this model is not the one that will gain traction, but it’s hard to know until you get into the weeds of it all.”

The CRB’s updated ordinance will seek to utilize the changed law, though a draft of the ordinance has not been formally presented to the public.


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