RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s City Council has approved a plan to establish a police civilian review board, despite criticism over its oversight power of the city’s police department.
The council’s unanimous vote Monday came after several speakers raised concerns that the plan didn’t give the civilian review board enough oversight of the department, including the authority to impose discipline.
Under the approved plan, the civilian review board will act as an independent advisory board. It can only make recommendations for discipline or policy changes to the police chief after reviewing investigations by the department’s internal affairs division.
“The Board will focus on serious cases of misconduct, including reviewing all officer involved shootings, allegations of abuse, serious injuries that occur while in custody, deaths in custody, and citizen appeals of RPD decisions,” the city’s civilian review board presentation from Sept. 27 reads.
Many public speakers called for more time for the community to review the plan and propose possible changes, saying they felt the ordinance could have been strengthened to give the civilian review board more oversight of the police department.
City councilmembers acknowledged people’s concerns but opted against delaying the final vote until November. “We need to move forward,” 3rd District councilmember Ann-Frances Lambert said Monday.
Eight city residents will be appointed to the civilian review board, four picked by the city council and four selected by Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration. While the plan calls for a liaison from Richmond police to provide information to the board, a police appointee won’t be on the board.
Board members will be given a stipend, which is taxpayer-funded.
To have a motion move forward, five of the eight civilian review board members must approve the plan. A supermajority of the civilian review board, six of the eight members, must approve any subpoena requests and the hiring of an independent investigator.
“As long it’s supported by all the constituents — by the mayor, by the police department or police chief, by the city council — then, it’s going to go in the right direction, and it may need tweaking a little bit here and there,” Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Criminal Justice Professor Dr. William Pelfrey said. Pelfrey worked on the task force that previously provided recommendations to Richmond City Council, which helped inform the formation of the civilian review board.
“As long as it continues down a path where it’s got support by all the major decision-makers and is doing what it’s supposed to, which is provide accountability, give a voice to citizens, guarantee that internal police investigations are done appropriately and that the outcomes are reasonable, I think it’s a great thing,” Pelfrey added.
Pelfrey noted that, in reviewing data to compile the recommendations presented to City Council, the majority of complaints filed against the Richmond Police Department (RPD) were done so internally.
“The police department files more complaints against officers than the citizens do. That’s pretty rare,” Pelfrey said. “In most cities, citizens initiate more complaints than the agency. That means the agency is exacting a high level of scrutiny against its officers.”
The Richmond Police Department is also expressing support for the board.
“Since day one, Chief Smith has supported the creation of a civilian review board,” a Richmond Police Department spokesperson said in a statement to 8News. “The Department looks forward to the next steps in the process.”
Monday’s vote is just another step in the process of creating the board. The approved ordinance states that the city council will hire a civilian review board manager to guide its work within 90 days.
“The monuments came down before I got elected, so that was one of my goals as becoming on city council, that I wanted to be involved in public safety,” Councilmember Lambert told 8News on Tuesday. “I wanted to make sure we are restoring that trust with police officers back in our community because I saw the lack of leadership during that time that was necessary.”
Lambert proposed an amendment to the plan for the civilian review board, which would require that members have been residents of Richmond for at least five years. However, she told 8News that she dropped the proposal so that the plan could move forward. Lambert and Pelfrey noted that there will be opportunities for revisions to the board’s plan over the next year.
“There’s no actual guidebook for how to have a civilian review board, so we are taking it one day at a time,” Lambert said. “But it was necessary for us to actually get going and get the process going of creating a board, and actually appointing some of those community members that really want to be a part of it.”
The manager and the city attorney’s office will craft the civilian review board’s policies and procedures, which include meeting guidelines, confidentiality requirements, its review process and more.
The policies and procedures must be approved by the city council before members can be appointed to the civilian review board.
Stay with 8News for updates to this developing story.