The Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board on Tuesday proposed a new police oversight model and other changes to city policies to the City Council during a joint work session.
The oversight model would give the CRB review, investigative, audit and advisory functions. It also would allow the board to receive and process complaints, initiate independent investigations of complaints of serious misconduct or incidents involving use of force and review Integrative Analysis investigations that are not categorized as “serious.”
It would also allow the CRB to hold hearings in support of a complaint review, investigation, or disciplinary matter, and give the board subpoena power to support those hearings, conduct periodic audits of Charlottesville Police Department policies, practices and outcomes, evaluate impacts on disproportionately policed groups, provide reports of audits and investigations and conduct public engagement activities to hear community concerns and facilitate communications with CPD.
William Mendez, CRB vice-chair, said the model was designed to be consistent with House Bill 2055, which was signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in October and allows municipalities to grant expanded powers to police oversight boards. Charlottesville’s CRB consulted with community members and organizations such as the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. They also reviewed similar police oversight structures in other areas of the country.
HB 2055 says that municipalities may establish oversight organizations and can grant them powers to receive, investigate and issue findings on complaints from civilians regarding conduct of law-enforcement officers, to investigate and issue findings on incidents including use of force, death or serious injury to someone in police custody, serious abuse of authority or misconduct and allegedly discriminatory stops.
It also says municipalities can grant oversight boards the authority to make binding disciplinary determinations after consulting with an officer or employee’s direct supervisor.
Police Chief RaShall Brackney worried that under this model there would not be due process, and that the process for reviewing police officers would be different than the process that is in place for other city employees.
“The city could then be positioned for liability for having two disciplinary processes within the agency that are different within the agency and within the city’s staff through HR, so again, language is important for all of us,” Brackney said.
She also said she wasn’t sure how review by the CRB without any involvement from CPD would work when it came to needing forensic evidence.
“If we believe an officer was DUI and had to send their blood to the lab, how do you get that? The officers don’t have to cooperate with you,” Brackney said.
Mendez said the CRB does not share Brackney’s concerns about legality because both Acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson and independent legal counsel hired by the CRB have reviewed the proposal and did not have any legal objections.
Councilor Michael Payne said he was concerned that because the CRB is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the privacy of investigations could be compromised. Councilor Sena Magill was similarly concerned that plaintiffs would be reluctant to issue complaints against the police because their anonymity could be compromised under FOIA.
“The feedback that we’ve gotten from NACOLE and from people who are experts in the field was that plaintiffs are less reluctant to go to an independent investigator or independent board than they are to go to the police, because the police have far more power to defend the police,” Mendez said.
Magill was also concerned that the level of work the CRB would be expected to do under this model could be overwhelming to the board, which is composed solely of volunteers. She pointed to the open spots on the social services board that the city has struggled to fill, and said she was concerned this could happen to the CRB.
“What if we don’t have a quorum?” she said.
“This board ideally would be a governing board. Due to the fact that we haven’t had an executive director, we’ve had to get in and roll up our sleeves to get some of the policy aspects to move forward,” said Bellamy Brown, chairman of the CRB. “I think we’re at a point to where the operational aspect is significantly missing, and a lot of things, even some of the FOIA protections might come under that operational aspect, as opposed to the board itself currently.”
He said that once an executive director is hired, that person will be able to provide more information.
Robertson said that while the police department’s personnel records are protected under FOIA, currently members of the public are not. She said she wants this aspect to be reviewed to see if members of the public could be exempt from FOIA to protect their privacy when filing complaints against the police.