I followed the efforts by Charlottesville’s Police Civilian Review Board to draft its bylaws, and I strongly disagree with the views expressed in a July 1 letter to the editor on this topic (“Police board bylaws are ‘troubling’”). 

The CRB is a good idea, as it will promote openness and transparency in how the Charlottesville Police Department addresses citizen complaints. 

The CPD currently keeps all complaint investigation files secret, with no opportunity for independent review. The Internal Affairs Division gives only single-word dispositions (“unfounded,” “exonerated,” “sustained,” etc.) when it describes complaint resolutions. 

Further, while the stated goal of the CPD is to resolve complaints within 45 days, the 2018 IA report, prepared in March of this year, shows that final dispositions had not been made for over one-third of complaints (12 of 33) received in 2018, with an average waiting time of over six months. 

This lack of transparency and responsiveness has understandably resulted in continuing distrust and lack of confidence in complaint resolution. The proposed CRB would perform a valuable service by providing an independent process to address complaints and hold the CPD accountable for their timely and fair resolution. 

Currently, over 140 municipalities in the U.S. have civilian oversight bodies, most having the power to conduct independent complaint review. Their primary goal is to promote good policing, not to impede law enforcement. 

The proposed structure for the Charlottesville CRB includes community outreach activities, and generally calls for close coordination with the CPD in development of policies and procedures to improve police-community relations and the handling of citizen concerns. The idea of a CRB is not inherently anti-police; there need not be an adversarial relationship between the board and the police department.

The committee members who drafted the proposed bylaws should be thanked for their very hard and conscientious work, and the City Council should finalize the implementation details for the new CRB. There are many issues to be resolved (like funding and staffing levels, and adequately assuring the confidentiality of CPD internal documents), but they should not be allowed to stall the process.  

Bill Mendez

Charlottesville

References:

https://www.charlottesville.org/departments-and-services/departments-h-z/police-department/crime-statistics (“Internal Investigations and Citizen Complaints: A Brief Overview”)

http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wvir/documents/initial-police-civilian-review-board.pdf, especially the "Powers, Duties, and Functions Section" of the Proposed Bylaws, specifically subsection "Community Engagement and Community Relations"

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