‘Toothless’ | Richmond Free Press

Richmond may soon have its first civilian commission to review serious complaints against police officers.

But the proposal currently before Richmond City Council would be a far cry from the powerful, robust and independent council originally envisioned.

On Monday night, Mayor Levar M. Stoney introduced the first legislation to install civilian oversight of police, a process that began nearly two years ago following protests that erupted in May 2020 following of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Much to the dismay of supporters, the mayor’s proposal rejects the recommendations of a strong board and instead offers a watered down version that some call “toothless.”

Under his proposal, the city’s Civil Review Board, or CRB, would be an advisory board attached to the Richmond Police Department with very limited authority.

Essentially, the mayor rejected recommendations issued last September by a task force created by the city, but which never had success with the city council. None of the council members introduced legislation in response to the recommendations.

These recommendations called for a strong board that could hear all complaints against officers, have its own investigators, be given subpoena power, and have the power to make binding disciplinary decisions.

The task force also called for spending $2.4 million a year to create a new fully-staffed city department with investigators and policy analysts to support the council – 10 times the $200,000 that the mayor offers to invest in his plan. According to his proposal, the council would be assisted by a member of the staff of the city’s inspector general.

Members of Richmond City Council and police have remained mum on their views on the mayor’s plan. Two board committees will begin reviewing the proposal next week.

The proposal put forward by the task force is exactly the kind of review board the Richmond Branch NAACP wants to see, according to its chairman, James E. “JJ” Minor III.

In a statement Tuesday on behalf of the branch, Mr. Minor, also a city employee, noted that the NAACP has “strongly advocated for the establishment of civilian commissions to review complaints against law enforcement officers.”

‘We are not anti-police,’ his statement continued, ‘but methods should be in place to hold police accountable’, including having independent review boards empowered to hear cases and make decisions. .

Mr. Minor insists that the mayor’s proposal be rejected and that a new proposal be put forward.

That is also the view of Princess Blanding, a former gubernatorial candidate who has been embroiled in such issues since a Richmond police officer fatally shot her brother, Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old biology teacher, in May 2018 while unarmed and naked, Mr Peters suffered what was described as a mental health crisis.

The mayor’s proposal “lacks many vital elements”, including the power of subpoena, Ms Blanding said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

“What’s the point of doing this if we’re not going to give the council the teeth it needs to properly review reports of police misconduct?” she asked. Instead of the bold recommendations put forward by the task force, “the mayor is offering a weak, watered-down version,” she said.

“During the uprising (after the murder of George Floyd), we made it clear what we wanted a civilian review board to look like in order to be effective,” she said. “The mayor’s plan doesn’t do it well.”

Still, it’s unclear how necessary a robust card is. According to data from the Richmond Police Department, Internal Affairs receives between 60 and 110 complaints against officers each year, with the majority generated by the department involving violations of general orders or service protocols. Only a small fraction involved potentially serious offences.

In 2021, the department reported that it was investigating four complaints alleging excessive use of force by officers.

Mayor Stoney’s plan would create a seven-member council whose primary task would be to review the results of police department investigations of officers for ‘accuracy, completeness and impartiality and sufficiency of any discipline’ .

His proposal would also allow the board to review only departmental investigations into cases where officers engage in shootings, cause death or injury, or are alleged to have subjected individuals to verbal or physical abuse. The council could also hear appeals from city residents whose complaints to the department were found to be unfounded or unfounded.

Under the mayor’s plan, council, after conducting its review, could only offer the chief of police, city council and the mayor recommendations on possible changes to policy, practices and procedures and discipline in specific cases.

The proposal would also largely require the council to conduct its reviews behind closed doors and prevent the council from commencing its work while the Richmond Police Department investigates, while the Commonwealth’s solicitor conducts a criminal investigation or pursues charges or while a civil case is pending. be prosecuted.

Dr. Eli Coston, assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and co-chair of the task force, said the task force’s recommendations follow model recommendations from national organizations that focus on the civilian review board.

Dr Coston

Restoring trust between police and the community will require advice that is beyond police control, Dr Coston wrote in a Facebook post. “We have had deaths of individuals at the hands of police and injured citizens, but many other incidents have fueled mistrust between police and the public.

“The scope and authority of the CRB recommended by the Task Force was aware of this history,” Dr. Coston wrote. “Our community would be best served by proactively creating a CRB with real oversight power.”

However, the mayor relied on the advice of another VCU professor, Dr. William “Will” Pelfrey Jr. to present a proposal for the creation of a council that is supposed to be able to work given the complex legal issues that are involved. .

Dr. Pelfrey

In response to a Free Press request for comment, Dr. Pelfrey, a criminal justice expert who has consulted with other police departments, called the mayor’s plan to create a relatively small review board “reasonable compared to the history of policing in Richmond. There is no need for an all-powerful CRB.

Dr. Pelfrey noted that the Richmond Police Department is one of the few in the country to be accredited and that the US Department of Justice has never investigated or requested a consent decree for the department as it has. made in other cities.

Instead of creating ‘the most expensive and powerful CRB in the country’, Dr Pelfrey said, mayor’s plan provides clearly articulated ‘process and powers’, recognizes legal pitfalls such a council may face with respect to personnel matters and authorizes conclusions which “are advisory to the chief, which is in line with the vast majority of CRBs”.


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