Council sends community police review board back to staff

Council sends community police review board back to staff
(Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

City Council sent a proposed ordinance establishing a community police review board back to the drawing board during Tuesday’s legislative meeting.

The ordinance is part of a larger trend of policies that are being considered across the country to hold police more accountable and end systemic racism, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and a series of high-profile police shootings that shocked communities earlier this year.

Staff crafted the ordinance after council unanimously adopted a resolution on June 9 to establish such an independent body. The proposed ordinance would establish a hybrid model with both a community policing review board and independent auditor who would supplement the board’s work.

The board would have the ability to review and evaluate “policing practices, policies, procedures and outcomes,” provide recommendations to public bodies regarding policies and practices and review investigations. It would not have authority to investigations of police incidents, according to the ordinance.

Sarah Taylor, the city’s legislative director, emphasized that the proposed board is designed to evolve over time to meet the community’s specific needs.

“We know from our research that these are meant to be iterative,” Taylor said. “They’re meant to grow themselves. Their own work will determine their future.”

The proposed board would be made up of seven residents appointed by council, including: at least three members of historical racially or socially marginalized groups that have experienced disparate policing in the city; at least one representative from a racial or social justice organization; and at least one member with experience in law enforcement.

Members would serve three-year terms, except for the first board, on which four members would serve three-year terms and the other three would serve for an 18-month term, according to the ordinance.

Councilor Mo Seifeldein was at the heart of the discussion around the proposed ordinance. Seifeldein questioned whether staff had misinterpreted council’s original directive, since the ordinance did not include an analysis of a potential board with inves- tigative and subpoena power.

“[The ordinance] sidesteps the pain of these communities [of color] that I am speaking about,” Seifeldein said. “It also raises a matter of process and whether the council directions were heeded or whether there was miscommunication from the council’s part.”

Seifeldein conducted outreach with local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Tenants and Workers United and other local grassroots organizations. Seifeldein said he repeatedly heard that a review board must have independent investigative power in order to be successful.

Without staff’s presentation of more than just the hybrid review board-auditor option, Seifeldein argued that council, and the community, didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision about how to proceed with a solution that works for Alexandria.

“I’m not sure if I’m comfortable enough with sending this to the community because what you’re going to get from the community is people engaging with what they have now, not the other possibilities,” Seifeldein said. “So, you’re already kind of setting the premise of the discussion.”

In addition to the proposed ordinance, Seifeldein requested that staff create another proposal examining the pros and cons of a board with investigative authority. The board proposed by Seifeldein would conduct its own investigations in parallel with any internal police department investigations.

In response to Seifeldein’s concerns, City Manager Mark Jinks said staff came forward with one proposal because that’s what staff believed council had instructed. The recommendation, crafted in 90 days, was designed to start the board out with more limited ability before expanding its power in time, Jinks said.

“To start the board out with that function, it would be a huge leap,” Jinks said. “It would be better, I believe, to start the board out with a review of that [investigative] function and get the board up to speed, get everything working.”

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilor Canek Aguirre echoed Seifeldein’s comments and hoped to see further analysis of what different versions of a police review board could look like.

Seifeldein ultimately made a motion, seconded by Councilor Amy Jackson, to send the recommendation back to city staff for revisions that would include further exploration of alternative options, including a board with investigative authority, prior to initiating the community outreach process. As part of the motion, staff will come back before council to present the revised ordinance as early as the Oct. 6 legislative meeting.

The motion passed unanimously, 7-0.