Richmond City Council members heard a presentation Monday from Dr. William Pelfrey Jr. as well Commonwealth University of Virginia (VCU) professor, focusing on criminal justice and national security, as well as preparedness for emergencies.
“I was invited to the post of mayor [Levar] the Stony Reimagining Policing Task Force, and we concluded that worked about a year ago, and part of our recommendation was to form a civilian audit committee in Richmond, and that’s what Richmond has needed for a long time, ”he said. “This is what most police departments in cities of this size have.
For example, July 21, 2021 The Arlington County Council established a community oversight board and an independent police auditorseeking to improve transparency and accountability in the Arlington County Police Department. There is also a Civic Expert Group in Fairfax Countyreviewing completed investigations by the Fairfax County Police Department into complaints containing allegations of abuse of power or serious misconduct to work toward greater accuracy, completeness, thoroughness, objectivity, and impartiality.
“The Civic Review Board is trust and responsibility, and there are people in Richmond who don’t trust the police,” Pelfrey said. “If people do not trust the police, it reduces the efficiency of the police. Citizens who trust the police will give them intelligence, give information, say that they think someone on the street is doing something suspicious. If people do not trust the police, the police do not receive this information until it is too late. Then they are reactive, not proactive. “
Pelfrey reviewed data on Richmond police complaints from 2013 to 2021. His findings showed that most complaints were filed domestically, with an average of 57.7 complaints from citizens to the department each year.
Pelfrey said during Monday’s meeting that official complaints from citizens are a false system, and that Richmond police reports say 5 to 10 percent of all complaints indicate possible criminal activity. With that in mind, Pelfrey said the expected workload on the Richmond Civic Review Commission would be five to eight cases a month.
“Usually the civilian review board considers a certain set of cases,” Pelfrey said. “Any death in custody, any use of a firearm, any serious bodily injury to a suspect that has resulted in hospitalization, or an appeal to a police investigation if a citizen appeals the results.”
According to Pelfrey, the city of Richmond does not have a broad history of such interactions between citizens and police. However, the council can provide an opportunity to increase trust.
“It makes people who have been arrested feel that they will be treated more fairly, and ultimately, it will benefit the police department because they will provide access to information and intelligence that they would not otherwise receive,” he said. said.
Pelfrey recommended that the Richmond Civic Review Commission consist of seven to 11 individuals who are diverse and representative of society. They would be appointed by several sources – the mayor, the city council and the police chief – with fixed deadlines.
He also recommended liaison with the Richmond Police Department: active investigators who could answer questions, protect information and provide a point of contact with the agency.
“Ideally, this person will also have some experience in internal affairs, and they can explain the process of internal affairs, because the people who are going to be members of the Civil Review Commission are not police experts,” Pelfrey said. “Their goal is to be objective. Police experts come in a different way. ”
Although this liaison will not be a member of Richmond’s civilian audit committee with the right to vote, the state legislature now has a bill that could change that.
“One of the elements HB 1000 is that a police officer, a former police officer will sit on any civilian review board in Virginia, ”Pelfrey said. “I think it’s a bad idea because it would start delegitimizing the civic review commission. The Civic Review Commission should be completely objective, and if you fill the CRB with police officers or former police officers, in the eyes of some people it undermines their objectivity. ”
The measure is still under discussion. But if that passes, the city of Richmond, like other settlements, would have to adapt.
Pelfrey said the city council should also determine what powers the subpoena will have for the civilian review board. He recommended that such powers could be exercised by a majority vote, and this request would come from the city prosecutor, who would then be considered by an objective judge.
“The mayor says he wants a CRB, the police chief wants a civilian review commission, and the city council has said he wants a civilian review commission,” Pelfrey said. “The devil is in the details and finds out who and how many people to appoint; how they will act, how the CRB will operate; how they are going to conduct their investigations; the degree of authority to sue which they will possess ”.
Although the Richmond Civic Review Commission will have the power to make recommendations based on case oversight, Pelfrey did not recommend that the group have final authority on discipline for police officers.
“Most of the results of the civil commission are advisory to the police chief, and this is the norm, and the police chief can use this recommendation in combination with the results of the internal affairs investigation,” he said. “If the Civil Audit Council considers that the investigation of internal affairs was not lawful or its results were inadequate, they will give another recommendation to the chief, and the chief may take this into account in making decisions.”
Pelfrey noted during his presentation that the first iteration of this board would not be perfect and that over time there may be a need for revisions.