Sep 29, 2022 - Politics

Richmond's fight over police civilian review

Illustration of a cracked magnifying glass over a police badge.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

After a false start earlier this year, city leaders are taking another stab at establishing a police civilian review board.

Why it matters: The new proposal is already mired in debate about whether it will do enough to provide independent oversight of the city's police department.

Driving the news: This month, Mayor Levar Stoney introduced an ordinance aimed at addressing criticism that engulfed his first proposal.

  • The biggest change: The mayor's office and police chief would no longer be allowed to choose a majority of appointees.
  • Instead, the power to fill the board's eight seats would be evenly split between his office and the Richmond City Council.

Yes, but: Independence of the appointees aside, critics say Stoney's approach still leaves the board without enough authority to effectively investigate complaints and deter misconduct.

  • Under Stoney's plan, the board would primarily be responsible for reviewing investigations completed by the police department’s own internal affairs division.
  • After conducting their review, the board's work would be limited to making recommendations for discipline or policy changes to the chief of police.

Worth noting: Under Stoney’s proposal, if the board found the police department’s internal review inadequate, it could hire an independent investigator and issue subpoenas for documents and testimony.

  • A supermajority vote of the board would be required to exercise subpoena power.

What they're saying: The approach has drawn criticism from the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project, which has been advocating for a civilian review board since 2020, and the Richmond City Democratic Committee.

  • "Richmond doesn't need a Civilian Rubber Stamp Board," Tom Barbour, a member of the Democratic committee, said in a statement. "We deserve a CRB empowered to investigate and discipline police misconduct independently. This proposal falls short of that goal."

The other side: The Richmond Coalition of Police, which represents city police officers, told council members its primary concern is that names of officers are kept secret in records released by any review board.

  • As currently drafted, it is unclear whether officers' names would be released — a transparency measure advocates say they want.

What's next: The ordinance establishing the review board cleared its first legislative hurdle earlier this week, but it still has to go before the full city council.

  • One council member, Mike Jones, warned the final product was unlikely to please everyone: "No one is going to be at 100% consensus."

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