VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach’s Citizens Review Panel Task Force recommends the city grant their citizen police watchdog group subpoena powers when investigating potential cases of officer misconduct, but continue leaving discipline up to the police department.
The much-anticipated findings were delivered to Virginia Beach City Council Tuesday night as part of a final report that addressed everything from policy and procedure changes, to the changes’ effects on the police department, to changing the name of the city’s current from Independent Review Panel (IRP) to the Independent Citizen Review Board.
The 11-member task force met for two months to come up with its findings. Revamping the Independent Review Panel became a priority for many social justice and civil rights activists following high-profile police-involved killings in the United States that led to civil unrest last year, as well as a Virginia Beach police officer’s killing of Donovon Lynch in March.
The IRP, which was founded in 1991 following the Greekfest riots, does not have the ability to review internal police department investigations until after they’re complete. It also doesn’t have the ability to compel witnesses to come forward in cases of suspected police misconduct or abuse of power.
Ultimately, nine “unanimous recommendations” were forwarded to City Council. However, subpoena power certainly has garnered the most attention.
City Council has been split right down the middle on the issue.
In a 6-5 unofficial vote in early March, council members decided they didn’t want to move forward with granting the ability for the citizen group to subpoena. The former vice mayor saying it would turn the IRP into a “quasi-judicial entity,” and further hurt police recruitment efforts.
Yet, other council members were steadfast in their opinion that the current system “is not working,” as the IRP can only review internal police department investigations after they are complete.
The task force recommends that a subpoena only be requested by the citizen group from a circuit court judge following a completed internal affairs investigation by the police department and “after all good faith attempts to obtain an interview or documentary evidence are exhausted.”
Even then, a legal review would need to be completed and nearly three-fourths of voting members would have to agree with it.
The report found the subpoena authority “should not generate a negative impact to the department” as city policy already requires employees to cooperate and appear during the process of an investigation.
The board would be allowed to issue non-binding discipline recommendations to the city leadership.
While the task force is not recommending the citizens oversight group be able to discipline officers, the General Assembly did pass a bill in October allowing local governments to establish citizen review boards with power to not only investigate potential police misconduct, but also decide on discipline.
The report also recommends the Independent Citizen Review Board be expanded to 11 members with two non-voting members with law enforcement experience. Two voting members would be under the age of 40 and the total membership should reflect the diversity of the city population.
The task force urges the city manager create the position of a “board coordinator” who will monitor investigations, conduct trend analysis and coordinate community outreach.
“The board shall have unfettered authority to conduct independent review of the [sic] any citizen complaint investigation, internal investigation, or police policy or procedure,” the report reads. “The board shall be mandated to conduct a review of the internal investigation into any death or serious injury of a citizen occurring as a result of police action.”
All hearings would continue to be open to the public.
“I am proud of the work that the team put into it,” said Sean Monteiro, chair of the task force. “I believe it is a recommendation that will serve as an important piece of the puzzle to enhance trust and public safety.”
City Council is expected to receive a formal briefing on the report at their meeting Sept. 7.