City Council meeting on CRB

NOLAN STOUT/THE DAILY PROGRESS

Community members show their support of a Police Civilian Review Board, as envisioned by the initial CRB, during a Charlottesville City Council meeting in November.

This story has been updated with the names of the six people who have already submitted applications to serve on the CRB.

The Charlottesville City Council made more changes to the structure of a police oversight panel before finally establishing it, although community members remained frustrated with the final proposal.

The council voted 4-1 to approve an ordinance and bylaws for a Police Civilian Review Board during its meeting on Monday. Councilor Wes Bellamy voted against it.

The bylaws would establish the board’s meeting procedures. The ordinance covers the board’s composition, staffing and powers.

The goal of the board is to improve trust between the Charlottesville Police Department and the community. An initial board was created in the fallout of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally to create a recommendation of ordinance and bylaws.

The original draft by the council, presented at its Oct. 21 meeting, was met with backlash from activists and members of the initial CRB. They said it was a watered-down version of the original recommendation.

At Monday’s meeting, The People’s Coalition offered 10 amendments to the revised proposal, which was released last week.

Community members have been concerned that the council pushed the proposal through quickly rather than ensuring it was effective.

Bellamy has said he wanted to expedite the process because the outgoing councilors created the initial CRB and need to see it through.

Bellamy and Mayor Nikuyah Walker also have expressed concern about who might prevail in Tuesday’s council election.

“It’s got to work, you all,” Gloria Beard, a member of the initial CRB, told the council. “Don’t throw this together real quick, because the people you hire have to do the work.”

The main changes from the first proposal and the one approved Monday focused on policy review and authority to change bylaws.

The board’s initial review power is limited to internal affairs investigations, but the council approved a resolution that allows for an expansion.

The resolution allows the CRB to review changes to policies related to internal investigations and complaints at least 30 days before CPD enacts them.

The resolution gives the council, not the board, the power to expand the list of policies available for review. The board can recommend additional policies for review.

The People’s Coalition recommended that CPD’s policies on biased-based policing, disciplinary procedures, constitutional procedures and use of force are added to the list for CRB review.

The council voted to add those to the list of policies for review on a 4-1 vote, with Bellamy voting against it.

Neither the bylaws nor the ordinance required the police department to respond to the board’s comments about the policies. The council revised the rules at Monday’s meeting to require a response.

Kate Fraleigh said that it’s vital for CPD to respond to policy review recommendations.

“The CRB recommendations and findings are not effective tools for change without a response from the CPD,” she said.

Walt Heinecke said the CRB should be able to review all complaints. The ordinance would only allow the board to review complaints that internal affairs ruled were unfounded or couldn’t be proved.

Heinecke also said all complaints filed with CPD should be forwarded to the CRB.

Walker said the city plans to add a line to the complaint form that allows people to opt out of having the complaint forwarded to the CRB. Otherwise, all will be forwarded to the board.

City Attorney John Blair said allowing the CRB to review complaints that were sustained could create an issue with employment law. If the officer was disciplined because of the complaint, he said, and then the CRB determined that the complaint was unfounded, then that employee could file a lawsuit saying the discipline was unjust.

The final ordinance also allows the CRB to amend its bylaws without City Council approval.

The board will include seven voting panelists and one nonvoting member.

Three people will be appointed from a historically disadvantaged community or live in public housing.

One member will represent a racial or social justice organization, while the other positions do not have requirements.

The council revised the ordinance at Monday’s meeting to allow the person who works for a racial or social justice organization to live or work in the city. All other board members must be city residents.

The council will appoint members in closed session.

Six people already have submitted applications for CRB membership, according to Clerk of Council Kyna Thomas. They are Anthony Wasch Jr., Vicki Hawes, Lucas Beane, Kevin Healy, Navarre Bartz and John Pfaltz.

Board members must sign confidentiality agreements related to the contents of an internal affairs file or other personnel record.

The council plans to seat a board by Dec. 16, and applications remain open. It will be the final meeting for Bellamy and Councilors Mike Signer and Kathy Galvin, who all chose not to seek re-election.

The board will have an executive director. Initially, that person was expected to provide an initial report in June about hiring an auditor to study CPD data.

The report will recommend if an auditor should be hired or if the work should be conducted by a consulting firm.

At Monday’s meeting, the council decided to change the resolution that requires that report. It now says that the report can be made earlier than June if the director deems it necessary.

Adeola Ogunkeyede, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program, said the auditor should be hired on a one-year trial period.

“We think that a trial period of one year is a low-stakes way of council saying that you do have a good faith way of showing that the CRB can be proactive instead of reactive,” she said.

Ogunkeyede said the city needs more than a few months to determine if an auditor is needed.

“That’s an unrealistic and unreasonable time frame for you all to make a decision of such importance,” she said. “You will be hard-pressed to find someone who can meet the qualifications and be able to turn around and tell you what you want them to tell you.”

If an auditor is recommended, the director must justify if it will be a full- or part-time position and which aspects of CPD data should be studied.

“This auditor position needs to be filled,” Councilor Heather Hill said. “But the manner in which it’s going to be filled is to be decided by the executive director and the PCRB.”

Walker said that a majority of council didn’t support hiring the auditor immediately, so the proposal is “the attempt to compromise the community demands.”

The report also will recommend whether the director should craft a memorandum of understanding with Police Chief RaShall Brackney about what will be audited.

Katrina Turner, a member of the initial CRB, said the names of all applicants and finalists for the executive director position should be publicly posted.

“Releasing the names of applicants to the public will allow the community to see that the strongest applicants were considered as finalists and the best candidates were hired,” she said.

Bellamy said that such a public process could keep some people from applying for the job.

Galvin presented an amendment of sorts that would outline the needed qualifications of an executive director to guide the hiring process.

The amendment, which was not publicly available prior to Monday’s meeting, doesn’t call for specific experience or qualifications, but focuses on hiring someone with the experience to complete essential CRB functions.

“This was to provide direction to the city manager as the city manager goes about hiring,” Galvin said.

It was not added to the resolution.

Heinecke said the final proposal was weak and a disappointment.

“You have basically gutted the proposal from the initial CRB and I say, shame on you,” he told the council. “ If you don’t build it right, they won’t come.”

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City hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, nstout@dailyprogress.com, or @nstoutDP on Twitter and Facebook.

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