Arlington Co. votes to create civilian police oversight board, with limits

The Arlington County Board of Directors voted to create a civilian police oversight board, but some believe the group should be given more power.

Arlington has taken a step towards police surveillance, but some say it’s not enough. OMCT Neal Augenstein reports. (WTOP / Neal Augenstein)

Arlington County Council voted to create a Civilian Police Oversight Board, but some believe the committee should have more power to try to ensure officers properly use the power given to them when they take an oath to protect and serve.

In addition, the council voted to create an independent police auditor to work with the community watchdog.

Under a Virginia law passed last year, localities have the right to establish civilian commissions with the power to summon police and make disciplinary decisions, including dismissed officers.

After a year of debate, Arlington County Council voted to allow the Civilian Police Oversight Board to conduct its own investigation, alongside an internal police investigation.

However, the disciplinary role of the Community Oversight Board will be limited to reviewing and recommending actions, rather than imposing them.

During the public comment period ahead of the vote, some residents expressed their views on County Director Mark Schwartz’s initial proposal that deprived the community of making changes.

Residents wondered why the county council would allow the police department to retain control over its internal investigations. They questioned giving the Civil Council oversight but not giving it subpoena power.

However, members of the public, officers and police unions have come out in favor of Schwartz’s compromise.

An Arlington officer said his colleagues were afraid: “Afraid they were doing the right thing in the line of duty and that the public might disagree. “

“The subpoena power is not the only way to resolve the trust issues that exist between the police and the community,” said another supporter of Schwartz’s proposal.

Ultimately, the Board of Directors granted the COB the opportunity to apply to Arlington Circuit Court for a subpoena, if good faith efforts to participate in a concurrent investigation with the police department do not provide access. documents or witnesses requested.

Arlington County Council will review the effectiveness of its proposal in about 18 months.

Schwartz acknowledged that the discussion on the role of the Civilian Oversight Board will continue: “It has been 360 days since I committed to doing this, and it looks like there is still a long way to go.

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