Charlottesville is one step closer to banning firearms in city facilities and properties while signaling support for expanded civilian oversight of police.
The council conducted a first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit firearms during its virtual meeting on Monday.
The ordinance would bar firearms in city buildings, parks and recreational or community centers. It would also prohibit guns on public streets or in the right-of-way adjacent to a city park that is being used for a permitted event.
The city has been seeking the authority to implement such measures, but localities did not have that power until it was approved by the General Assembly in its most recent session.
Violation of the ordinance would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine as high as $2,500.
Councilor Lloyd Snook pointed out that the proposal could bar gun possession in public housing because the units are owned by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The issue was a concern to several councilors.
“If that is the case, then we definitely will want something to exclude them” from the ordinance, Mayor Nikuyah Walker said.
Councilors were also uncertain how the ordinance would apply to public parking garages.
City Attorney John Blair plans to tweak the measure to address concerns about public housing units and parking garages before the ordinance is considered at council’s Aug. 3 meeting.
In other business, the council signaled its support for expanded civilian oversight of police as the meeting stretched into Tuesday morning.
The council adopted a resolution asking Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, and Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, to support legislation related to police review boards and take up other measures in the wake of protests of police brutality.
The legislature is set to consider proposals by the Legislative Black Caucus focused on police accountability during the special session that begins Aug. 18.
The proposals would require all police departments in Virginia to have a corresponding civilian review board with subpoena power. Subpoena power was not included in the original or current iteration of the Charlottesville CRB’s bylaws.
The legislation also would limit the use of sovereign immunity, a state law that shields individual police officers and their governing bodies from civil liability for violations of constitutional rights.
The city’s Police Civilian Review Board held its first meeting last month after a nearly two-year process.
The council has been at odds with the city’s Police Civilian Review Board, which is still in its infancy.
At its first meeting, the CRB voted to revert its bylaws and ordinance to the structure presented by an initial panel but not adopted by a previous council.
However, the council has indicated that it will take no action on the CRB’s wishes before the General Assembly holds the special session, a move that has drawn the ire of the board and activists.
Snook, who has been cautious about the board’s powers during the campaign and his first year on council, said that his reservations have always been that the panel’s powers “not violate state law.”
Snook said it’s unclear just how much power the state will provide to review boards and the key issue will be subpoena power.
“If I had to say there is one thing that is likely to not pass, it would be the subpoena power provision because it is such a challenge to so many different layers of the power structure,” he said.
Walker said that passing state legislation would ensure that the board doesn’t become entangled in court battles.
“It’s very important if we can get this passed at the state level it will help strengthen our local CRB so that we’re not tied up in lawsuits and they can actually hopefully get some work done,” she said. “This is an area where if we want change we have to be bold about it.”