Task force considers powers, structure of Richmond civilian review board

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The capital city is one step closer to creating a civilian-led police oversight board, responsible for investigating alleged officer conduct and policy, though its structure remains debated.

During a virtual town hall Thursday, a task force charged to design the makeup of a civilian review board detailed what role the board may have and welcomed public comment how they see the board should operate.

“We have been tasked specifically by the city council to design a civilian review board with subpoena power,” task force member Erik Nielson said, a University of Richmond professor who studies the intersection of African American culture and the law.

“Who do you want to see on this [review board], what should the rules be about who should and shouldn’t? There are already rules about law-enforcement. But, what else?” he asked to the general public members joining the town hall.

The decision who will appoint members of the task force remains unknown and up for discussion and public comment, member Ed Miller said.

According to Dr. Eli Coston, task force co-chair, the likely structure of the civilian review board would include an executive director, five investigators, an auditor and other staff–all with an estimated first annual budget of $1.2 million.

One member of the public said they hope there will be money to support the investigations, and not just investigators, while another person expressed desire for the board to also create better relations between the community and police officers.

Task force members said there is debate whether the civilian review board can investigate claims that happened in the past, and not just those after the board is created. 

Several members indicated Richmond’s city attorney said the board may not be able to conduct retroactive investigations, citing Virginia law and a lack of precedent.

Nielson and Jewel Gatling, also on the task force, questioned the city attorney’s stance.

In light of Tuesday’s Southside mass shooting, a citizen asked if the board will seek more transparency about criminal cases—finding information beyond announcements about charges and arrests. They said they hope to learn how shooters obtained weapons, and motives behind the crimes.

“You need to develop your values and your mission statement. At that point, that can determine how you move forward,” Vera Thoma said as a public comment.

Coston said the task force’s design for a review board will be submitted to City Council by Aug. 1.

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