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Civilian Review Board continues to grapple with new powers, role

The Charlottesville Civilian Review Board, which will review the city police department, discussed this week the lessons learned from a recent mock hearing as they prepare to take on new powers and an expanded role.

Over the last year, the board has worked to update its ordinance and expand its powers to allow the board to investigate complaints against the Charlottesville Police Department in addition to reviewing them. This expanded role is the result of changes to the state code.

In light of the new role, the board will be renamed the Charlottesville Police Civilian Oversight Board once the ordinance goes into effect on March 1. However, many of the more specific details of how the board will function won’t be finalized until the operating procedures are drafted over the next few months.

Much of the board’s work in recent months has revolved around how hearings will operate and whether they will be closed to the public. The board members appear to generally favor the idea of closed hearings, although the idea has received pushback from some city councilors and members of the public.

Further complicating the idea of closed hearings is the recent death of a bill from Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville that would have made it legal for a public board to hold a closed meeting to “protect the privacy of an individual in administrative or disciplinary hearings related to allegations of wrongdoing by employees of a law-enforcement agency where such individual is a complainant, witness, or the subject of the hearing.”

It remains to be seen whether the board will continue to pursue closed hearings, but much of Thursday’s meeting was dedicated to learning about the Freedom of Information Act and open meeting requirements.

Last month, members of the Board and representatives from the Charlottesville Police Department attempted to walk through how an investigative hearing might function.

During Thursday’s meeting, board vice chairman Bill Mendez said the hearing was a little rough but Acting Chief of Police Latroy A. Durrette affirmed the department’s commitment to working with the board.

“After we debriefed on the mock hearing, [the police representatives] let us know how disappointed they were and distressed about some of the things that we did, but they also admitted that they learned a lot,” Mendez said. “They realized, perhaps, that they need to do a better job of presenting their case and that they’re not in the habit of being open about internal affairs, and they realize that they’re going to change things around a little bit.”

Board Member James Watson emphasized the importance of finding a hearing examiner who understands the responsibilities of the board and the city police.

“There’s that element of sort of finding somebody that understands the procedures, what’s normal and what questions we can and cannot ask,” Watson said. “I don’t know how often we’re going to be able to get people to practice with us, but it’s sort of uncharted territory to some degree.”

Another part of the board’s agenda is presenting a draft of its updated ordinance, which Mendez cautioned likely won’t be prepared in time for next month’s meeting. The ordinance will take advantage of the board’s expanded powers.

Something the board will also be able to do is examine the city police budget and provide recommendations. Board Executive Director Hansel Aguilar provided members with a brief overview of how that process may work and how it can best use its funding or request funding from City Council to hire an auditor.

The board is scheduled to meet again on March 10.


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