Black Lives Matter. Protests. Police Brutality. Violence.
No, justice, no peace.
As the country continues to reel from incidents of social unrest, many are calling for more transparency from their local law enforcement agencies.
The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates recently passed civilian review board legislation in response to the growing sentiment.
The legislation appears to be giving these boards some teeth.
“This legislation is permissive, enabling localities to grant stronger review and disciplinary authority to their review boards, including subpoena power and the ability to issue findings on incidents, such as the use of force by a law-enforcement officer, death or serious injury to any person held in custody, serious abuse of authority or misconduct, allegedly discriminatory stops, and other incidents,” according to a news release from Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, chief patron of the bill.
The bill is “permissive in nature” and if signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, goes into effect on July 1.
“The conferees also agreed to the original Senate version of the bill excluding sheriffs, who are elected officials and constitutional officers, and the Virginia State Police because these law enforcement agencies do not fall under local authority,” the news release announcing the legislation noted.
So what are law enforcement agencies in the Historic Triangle thoughts on these proposed reforms regarding civilian advisory boards and what do they plan to do in the meantime?
“Richmond isn’t telling us what it’s supposed to look like,” said Williamsburg Police Chief Sean Dunn.
Currently, what the Williamsburg Police Department has in place of a review board is the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, an international agency the Williamsburg Police is accredited by, Dunn said.
Each year, CALEA evaluates the department, and every fourth year a team of experts come on site to go through files, databases, and lesson plans to evaluate policies to assure the police force is best serving the community.
“But we are also looking for an advisory function that will bring the department to a higher level,” Dunn said.
He and the department are looking at other agencies to see what they are doing.
On a more local level, Williamsburg has even taken note of what the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office has done in terms of creating a citizen advisory committee, but they are still unsure what type of review board would best serve the Williamsburg community.
“It will require citizens who are really interested in learning about the police department,” Dunn said.
He added he believes the department does a fine job at community engagement, such as offering ride-alongs with officers, donation drives, and National Night Out. The department currently has the city divided into 20 separate areas, each with a designated officer to serve as a direct point of contact for the residents in that location.
“But where we are today is probably not where we need to be five years from now,” Dunn said.
James City County Police Chief Brad Rinehimer said he plans to wait to see what exactly the governor is going to sign.
“I think there are a lot of questions still that need to be resolved with it,” he said. “It’s kind of wait and see what becomes law, and react after that.”
He noted the department actually looked into creating their own advisory group ––“a less formal organization” but put those plans on hold after he was contacted by the WJCC Coalition for Community Justice group, an organization made up members from multiple community groups.
“I think obviously if the governor signs a law that makes it mandatory, there is no question we’ll do one,” he said, noting he feels the localities as opposed to the state should be making the call.
Rinehimer recently met with the group but there were many questions about how the group will look, who will they answer to and whether the group will separate from those in Williamsburg and James City County.
“Overall, I’m very supportive of any effort that increase transparency and trust with the community with us,” he said. “There are a lot of questions to be answered still.”
So what does the WJCC Coalition for Community Justice think about the proposed legislation?
Jurrand Summerville, chairman of the group and a software engineer from Mission Lane, said the legislation is a “great first step.”
“I think one of the things we are seeking as an organization is as much transparency as possible,” he said. “I think that it kind of gives civilian review boards the recognition they deserve.”
Summerville said the coalition has been meeting with Dunn and Rinehimer in recent weeks to come up with an oversight board.
But it’s unclear if the group plans to separate into two different bodies: One serving Williamsburg and the other serving James City County.
“Because we are kind of in a unique situation that we are all in a close proximity that work together…we kind want to get everyone at the table and a solution for everyone,” Summerville said. “I think the overall goal is collaboration and the people who police the community.”
The coalition’s next steps are to meet with the community stakeholders including city council members and prominent members of the community as a group and to reach out law enforcement in York County, too.
As for taking Rinehimer’s feedback, Summerville said the coalition will meet as a group to determine their next steps.
“The legislation is just to me it just gives validation to what we were already trying to accomplish before the legislation came around,” he added.
When asked how they select members for the group, he said they are reaching out to local church groups and still growing the coalition’s members.
“We definitely would like to hear from people in the community,” he said.
York-Poquoson Citizen Advisory Committee
York County announced the formation of the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office Citizen Advisory Committee in August. The committee will consist of seven to nine county residents who are interested in bridging the gap between York-Poquoson community members and the sheriff’s office.
“The purpose and mission of the citizen advisory committee will be to bring any concerns in our community to our attention. We would like to enhance our communication and ask committee members for feedback,” according to the announcement in August.
Rev. Penelope Carroll and local business owner D’Shawn Wright will be co-chairing the committee. For more information on the citizen advisory committee click here.
Representatives from the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office and the Citizen Advisory Committee did not return numerous calls and emails seeking comment for this story.
WYDaily reporters Gabrielle Rente, Julia Marsigliano and Annie Gallo contributed to this report.
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