During a packed meeting in which the chairman of Charlottesville’s Police Civilian Review Board pointed to alleged issues with city police leadership, the board approved a draft ordinance that seeks to expand its authority and investigative powers.
The vote came during a Thursday meeting in which the young board also approved hearing procedures for filed complaints and updated the public on its search for an executive director.
In recent months, much of the board’s discussions have revolved around updating its ordinance, which was approved by the City Council in 2019 and gave the board relatively few powers.
However, thanks to new statewide legislation that went into effect July 1, city councils and county boards of supervisors statewide can now create civilian review panels to examine use-of-force complaints and cases of deaths and serious injuries while in custody, among other concerns.
The law allows panels a variety of investigative powers, including the authority to ask circuit court judges to subpoena records. Ultimately, the City Council would have to agree to the board’s proposed new ordinance.
Among the powers requested is the ability to recommend punishment to the police chief. Board member Nancy Carpenter indicated she wished the board could do more than just make a recommendation.
“Compromise is part of politics, and I’m willing to compromise a little bit knowing the legislation still exists at a state level and that a future board can always come back,” she said.
Though the latest version of the draft that CRB members voted on Thursday was not included in the meeting documents, a version provided after the vote outlines a variety of requested powers and abilities, including the ability to:
receive, investigate and issue findings on complaints from civilians regarding the conduct of law enforcement officers and civilian employees of the Charlottesville Police Department;
investigate and issue findings on incidents, including the use of force and other incidents regarding the conduct of law enforcement officers and civilian employees of the CPD;
recommend to the chief of police disciplinary action;
investigate policies, practices and procedures of the police department and to make recommendations regarding changes;
review investigations conducted internally by the police department and to issue findings regarding the investigations and the sufficiency of any discipline resulting from such investigations;
request reports of the annual expenditures of the police department and to make budgetary recommendations to the City Council concerning future appropriations;
make public reports on the activities of the Police Civilian Review Board, including investigations, hearings, findings, recommendations, determinations and oversight activities; and
hold hearings and to apply for subpoenas.
“It’s certainly true that we’re going to be fighting over every one of these points and every one of these words and phrases with the council, we can be sure of that,” said board Vice Chairman Bill Mendez, who spearheaded the drafting. “So this is nobody’s last bite at the apple.”
The updated draft ordinance also clarifies the board’s relationship with its executive director, a paid position currently in the hiring process. According to Mendez, a strong candidate has been offered the position and they are awaiting a response.
Also approved during the meeting were hearing procedures for complaints received by the board. Though not a significant change from the version discussed during the board’s July meeting, members agreed that materials requested from the police — including internal affairs documents — must be delivered within 10 business days.
Additionally, the updated and approved procedures would no longer require complainants to submit questions and comments in written form ahead of the hearing.
At the end of the meeting, Chairman Bellamy Brown read a statement claiming there is a crisis in leadership and morale in the Charlottesville Police Department.
Brown, who issued the statement only as a reflection of his own view and not the board’s, said he was provided with a single copy of a Command Climate Survey that was designed to provide an internal gauge of the conditions at the police department.
According to Brown, the survey expressed widespread frustration with leadership within the department. A similar survey conducted by the Police Benevolence Association also claimed there is a negative climate within the department, Brown said.
“If there was ever a case showing why this board should be fully funded and supported, this is it, due to the fact that this is the only government entity that has been transparent with the public on this matter in bringing this to the public’s attention,” Brown said. “A strong policing oversight body would also provide officers with a place to bring reports of abuses or policy violations without fear of retaliation or fear of an unfair process.”
Board member James Watson said he would like to see some data to support the allegations, but commended Brown for speaking up.
During the subsequent public comment section of the meeting, attorney Jeff Fogel criticized Brown for listening to the PBA, pointing to the group’s previous opposition to the CRB. Fogel also claimed that some members of the PBA were upset by the department leadership’s decision to fire Joseph Wood, who was determined to have violated policy during a violent incident involving musician LaQuinn Gilmore.
“I think you’re way ahead of yourself and a little bit off,” Fogel said. “If you want to get into this, you better start asking those police officers to be specific and not to interpose broadsides against the department.”
The Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board will meet next on Sept. 9.