New civilian police oversight plan includes changes to composition and accountability

A new ordinance that would create a civilian body to oversee the Richmond Police Department includes changes that have drawn criticism from criminal justice reform advocates and the City of Richmond Democratic Committee.

Mayor Levar Stoney and four council members introduced new legislation on Monday to create a civilian review board, replacing legislation he introduced in March and withdrew in July.

The eight-member council – supported by a full-time staff member appointed by the city council – would review police shootings, as well as other injuries or deaths that occurred while people were in custody. The group would then make a report or recommendation to the Chief of Police, Mayor and City Council.

“This new proposal reflects a collaborative effort with members of city council and I greatly appreciate their critical insight,” Stoney said in a news release Monday. “The result is a CRB that will be equipped to meet the needs of our community, provide accountability and improve public safety for all Richmond residents.

The biggest change in the new legislation from the plan withdrawn in July concerns membership. Current legislation includes an eight-member council: four appointed by the mayor and four by the city council. Previous legislation included one member appointed by the chief of police, three appointed by the city council, and three by the mayor.

Eli Coston, co-chair of a task force appointed to explore possibilities for the civilian review board, tweeted Tuesday that the even number of seats on the board would make it less effective.

“Some of the changes will actually make the CRB less effective (8 members with a failed tie vote, higher percentage of votes for a subpoena). They don’t want surveillance.” coston wrote.

Even with the changes, the board would not be able to issue a subpoena and would have to apply for one at Richmond Circuit Court. The new legislation requires six – instead of the five votes previously requested – to address the court.

The council would be able to review all department investigations of police shootings, serious injury or death in police custody, accusations of physical and verbal abuse, and appeals of police findings. These investigations would only take place after a police investigation – but before discipline was imposed. The use of third-party investigators would depend on “the availability of sufficient funds”.

The council’s annual budget is estimated at $200,000.

“This proposal fails in a very specific way. The disciplinary authority, the final disciplinary authority under this document, is always the Chief of Police,” said RCDC Resolution Committee Chair Tom Barbour. “The problem with this is that right now we have a police chief who seems to be struggling to take responsibility for his own actions in the Dogwood Dell incident. I think this should make Council, the city and the people of Richmond think about whether this document will create an effective civilian review board.

The new legislation has several other notable differences: it removes a required period of residence in the City of Richmond in favor of current residence; no more than two council members may live in the same council district; and members – as well as their family members – cannot have any pending complaints or litigation against the police department.

The city council would also appoint a full-time staff member, who would prepare council-recommended policies and procedures. This staff member would serve at the pleasure of the Council, rather than being an employee assigned to the council by the Inspector General, who had previously expressed reservations about connecting the CRB to his office.

Two notable changes have been made to reporting. More importantly, the city’s chief executive will choose a third party to assess the council in the first year of the CRB. The council will also write an annual report to the mayor and council; the withdrawn legislation required the report to be submitted to the Chief of Police.

The mayor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on this story.

The Civil Review Board legislation will be formally discussed at the city council’s public safety standing committee meeting on September 27.

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