VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — One by one, citizens of Virginia Beach spoke at the Citizen Review Panel Task Force meeting to give their feedback on the issue of civilian oversight of law enforcement.
"Oversight provides protection for all parties involved," a community member said.
"Right now, there is a significant lack of trust between the police department and members of the community," another speaker said.
It's the first of two meetings where public comment will be heard on the issue of civilian oversight of law enforcement and the possibility of creating a Citizen Review Panel with police investigative powers.
"With a CRB that has the authority and power to investigate the situation independently, there will be avenue for transparent solutions, which will vindicate the innocent and identify the guilty," someone else added.
City council established the task force in April. It's seen as an effort to build trust and transparency with the police department.
"It’s a critical topic for policing nationwide, but I think what you saw in there, the task force and review board - the ones evaluating and putting forth the recommendations to council - are taking this incredibly serious. I do think the task force is needed. There has been public outcry to look at this in many different cities across the country. We owe the citizens a voice. I think a lot of us would have liked more people to show up," said Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate.
An 11-member Citizen Review Panel Task Force is tasked with researching and presenting recommendations to city council on extending investigative powers to a civilian body that has police oversight to review incidents of alleged police misconduct. The task force will study five topics and report its findings to the council:
1. The difference between investigatory power and subpoena power and whether investigatory power can be utilized without subpoena power
2. The purpose and designation of a budget for the citizens review panel
3. The impact of a citizens review panel on the Police Department
4. Identifying the best model that the City of Virginia Beach should adopt
5. Other pertinent topics regarding the development of the citizens review panel
The city's existing Investigation Review Panel looks at allegations of improper police conduct but currently doesn’t have investigative authority or disciplinary powers, which the Virginia Beach Benevolent Association (VBBA) — which represents the officers in the city — doesn’t think they should.
“The power to discipline equals the power to control, and when you have 11 people who were not elected by the citizens who ultimately could end up controlling the police department, that's very dangerous,” said VBBA President Brian Luciano.
The Virginia Beach Benevolent Association is against any form of citizen investigative or subpoena powers but says a citizen panel could help share police investigation information with the community.
The chair of the Citizens Review Task Force says he believes the task force will have a positive impact on the community.
"I think we are trying to solve two problems: It’s reinstating trust in the community, city officials and police force and also giving our citizens an avenue. And remove any barriers," said Sean Monteiro said, the chair for Citizens Review Task Force.
Richard James is a professor of criminal justice and a retired Norfolk Police officer with 27 years of experience who says he’s in favor of a Citizen Review Panel that has subpoena powers to call on officers to answer questions.
“Do I think citizens can do it? Again, yes, we have citizens doing the every day on juries and grand juries, and they also can make big decisions on whether person live or die in the United States of America,” said James.
James says a successful Citizen Review Panel would need to go through initial training together to have a better understanding of “how to investigate, who can testify, who will not be able to testify and then have a city attorney and again there to help them with some legal issues that they may not need a familiar with,” he explained.
“I'm 100% for the sharing of information; I think it needs to be transparent. I think the department should be sharing the information and they should be maybe even getting input from the board,” said Luciano.
James says he hopes a Citizen Review Panel can be a step towards building trust between police departments and the citizens they serve.
“If they discovered that the police are doing things right, then of course that builds trust. If they determine that things are not being handled properly, then they can also make some changes to the police department to make sure that they still build trust because we need the police,” said James.
The final meeting for public input is August 16 starting at 6 p.m. in building 19 at the Municipal Center. Community members can register to speak by contacting the City Clerk's Office at 757-385-4303.
Written comments may also be submitted to City Clerk Amanda Barnes at ABarnes@VBgov.com.
The task force recommendations are due to city council on August 31.