NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk City Council has approved spending more than $1 million in an effort to increase the transparency of its police department and further fund its efforts to deal with those with mental health issues.
The 7-1 vote Tuesday night came after several weeks of conversations, according to City Manager Chip Filer, about how to move forward with demands from protesters calling for the release of police use of force data.
Both Filer and Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone have both said they don’t endorse simply releasing the raw reports. Boone has said “those records should not just be arbitrarily thrown out for public consumption” and that there “needs to be a process.”
Currently, the department’s annual report is the only place you can find use of force data. It is broken down by the total number of complaints received/substantiated, average complaints per service call, the race and gender of those making the complaint, the type of disciplinary action taken, the type of force used, and who initiated the force.
Under Filer’s plan, the data would be broken down even further.
A third party with a background in law enforcement would be hired to help analyze Norfolk policing practices, including uses of force, for the last five years. After receiving citizen input and a final stamp of approval by the council, the report would be published online.
“If we understand the data internally and we know how to interpret it and what those findings are suggesting it helps us create a better environment for policing.” Filer said to council.
Council approved $200,000 already set aside in the city budget to start the process.
Councilman Paul Riddick voted against the measure, however, upset the city would only be going back five years. However, Filer said that is the amount of time the police department is required to keep records for.
At the same time, Filer has a late September deadline to compile a plan to launch and fund a citizen review board and oversight panel. It’s another measure being pushed for by advocates for police reform. Once created, council members would task the panel by providing recommendations for training, community engagement, and oversight of police complaints.
Council also approved spending $860,000 to help strengthen the police department’s existing crisis intervention program.
Under this concept, positions with the department will be rerouted to the Norfolk Community Services Board in order to pair officers with additional mental health workers. When a call comes in and the 911 dispatchers indicate someone with a mental illness may be involved, the team would respond.
Ultimately the goal is for the teams to build relationships with mentally ill individuals in the community, in order to prevent the 911 call from ever happening.
“All of this sounds good, just make sure it goes into action,” Riddick said.
Several speakers called into the meeting skeptical about many parts of the plan.
“We should not be adding any money to the Norfolk’s police department’s budget,” said Tyler Grizzle.
Others continued to advocate for the full release of police use of force reports.
Mayor Kenny Alexander explained this was still not the end of the changes. The council passed a ban on high-speed police chases last month, following the in-custody killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We’re in the infancy,” Alexander said. “This is the beginning. This council is taking a bold move saying that we want to move in this direction.”