Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney and Mayor Nikuyah Walker on Tuesday defended the Charlottesville Police Department and decried public distrust and criticism of the department’s leader.
The two-hour discussion on the city’s Cville360 program came on the same day a white police officer was charged with assault and battery for his actions in the March arrest of a Black man.
Brackney touched on the officer’s arrest twice during the broadcast, once in passing and once in response to a question from The Daily Progress.
“Without talking about the case specifically, it does tell you that when complaints are filed we really investigate them,” Brackney said. “[There’s] no real policy changes [coming], in that the system did work in the way that it is supposed to and it is designed to.”
Walker said her vision is for a healthy community and a police department that is not “abusive.”
“That is my only goal is for people to live in healthy communities and not feel like the police have to be there for it to be a healthy community,” she said.
The broadcast kicked off with Walker interviewing Brackney about why she decided to come to Charlottesville and what she saw as necessary changes for the department.
Brackney and Walker pointed out few concrete changes that have either been enacted or are underway within the department. The broadcast was billed as a response to an August listening session on policing, but there was little discussion of the issues raised in that meeting.
When activist Tanesha Hudson said during public comment that she didn’t feel that the broadcast was “a great follow-up” to the policing session, Walker said it wasn’t intended as such.
“This is a series of talking to leaders in this community about what they think needs to change from their vantage point and how they think it can change,” she said.
Brackney and Walker said the city is getting mixed messages from the community about what they want.
“At some point we’re going to have to come to a shared and agreed upon understanding of what the community wants from us,” Brackney said.
The department has faced increasing calls for substantial changes amid growing national protests of police brutality.
Walker said some of the criticisms could be because “We haven’t been able to articulate the change that we are doing.”
Brackney said she has been trying to dismantle structural issues with the police department. She contended that if she had said equity issues had been addressed in the first six months of her tenure that the community wouldn’t believe the changes had been thorough.
“This is not a system that can be transformed,” she said. “This is a system that has to be completely deconstructed.”
Walker and Brackney lamented public distrust and criticism. Walker said that she is receiving “constant attacks from the community” that she is “protecting” Brackney. She said she doesn’t think that the community is treating Brackney the same way that they treated other police chiefs.
“No matter what I say that comes out of my mouth, it’s going to be [all cops are bad],” Brackney said. “It’s going to be ‘we hate the police, I don’t care what anybody says, I don’t care what she says at all and we’re not going to allow for a space or an opportunity to say what can we do here.’”
Brackney said that her tenure that has been “incredibly open” and “accessible” and “transparent,” although activists and other government officials have criticized her transparency and accessibility.
“The community has had access to me since day one,” she said.
Brackney pointed to monthly investigative detention reports, commonly called “stop-and-frisk,” as an example of transparency. She said the community has responded well to the reports because the department no longer hears much about the stops beyond “the occasional newspaper write-ups.”
Brackney also mentioned including reports of internal affairs investigations on the city’s website to show the community that complaints are being investigated. One report has been posted for the first six months of 2020 and provides few details about the complaint.
The pair touched on the Police Civilian Review Board generally, which has already been at odds with Brackney and Walker.
Walker said that she felt that pushback she got on her attendance of CRB meetings before it was formally convened this summer was an example of racism.
“What white mayor or council has that ever happened to,” she asked. “We are essential to this conversation and it’s going to take all of us to move forward.”
Brackney said that police are an important part of the conversations about a vision for the future of the community.
“People want to talk about ‘you don’t need the police,’” Brackney said. “Actually, we all police ourselves and our communities every day. This is just a more formal way that the government enforces laws and ordinances.”