VB establishes Citizens Review Panel Task Force to study investigative, disciplinary powers over police

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A resolution dealing with police and accountability was the big issue at the Virginia Beach City Council meeting Tuesday night.

In a split 6-5 vote, members voted to establish a Citizens Review Panel Task Force. Former mayor and longtime council member Louis Jones cast the tie-breaking vote.

Virginia Beach officials on Tuesday night approved a measure to establish an 11-member citizen review panel task force that will serve in an advisory capacity to City Council and study matters such as the difference between investigatory power and subpoena power, the impact of a citizens review panel on the police department, among other topics.

Council members said the task force will look into areas that aren’t clear regarding citizens review panels and will recommend best practices for the city, whether that means creating a separate review body or changing the authority granted to the city’s current Investigative Review Panel.

The city’s Investigative Review Panel (IRP) as it stands currently looks into claims of improper police conduct but they do not have investigative or disciplinary powers.

However, last month, City Council did consider whether they would take advantage of newly-granted authority from the state to give the IRP the ability to make disciplinary decisions in cases where a Virginia Beach police officer may have abused authority or engaged in misconduct.

The council opted not to explore whether to give the panel subpoena power and the ability to hire outside legal counsel.

The resolution at Tuesday night’s meeting was brought forward by Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten in an effort to further press the issue. She said she submitted the resolution before the Oceanfront shootings on March 26, which left two dead and nine others injured.

Wooten and some other council members previously showed interest in giving the IRP the ability to dig into police complaints itself.

“It’s vitally important that we get this right,” Wooten said.

During the meeting, public speakers urged council members to pass the resolution to establish the citizens review panel task force.

Some council members voiced concerns about wording in the resolution that they felt implied granting subpoena power to the citizen review panel task force if it were to be established. Wooten clarified and said subpoena power is not being granted through this resolution.

Mayor Bobby Dyer added that he was concerned the wording in the resolution will hinder VBPD recruitment and retention efforts.

Safety measures at the Oceanfront

One other issue was on the agenda: a safety ordinance at the Oceanfront that would expand cameras, lighting in the area and give VBPD more tools to keep the resort area safe.

City Council unanimously approved a resolution to establish two capital projects and transfer $1.87 million to help police initiatives. It included an amendment to increase the amount of funds within the $1.87 million going toward shot spotting technology in two more communities in need in addition to the Oceanfront.

The money will go toward expanding the Oceanfront camera system, buying access to a national ballistic information database to help investigative efforts, deploying a gunshot detection system for the area, hiring a consultant to look at staffing and service data, installing safety lighting, and more.

Here’s the complete list of what’s in the resolution:

  • Expansion of the Oceanfront camera system: $1.2 million to purchase and install additional cameras. This amount will be combined with the $300,000 included in the fiscal year 2022 proposed budget to add 42 cameras in the resort area.
  • Purchase and access of BrassTRAX: $233,000 to include implementation and five years of licensing costs. This technology gives the police department quick access to national ballistic data to help investigations.
  • Gunshot detection system: $240,000 to purchase and deploy a system to quickly identify and triangulate gunshots within a 3-square-mile area. Establishes a capital project for the initiative to give opportunities to expand system.
  • Staffing plan and police structure assessment: $80,000 for a consultant to give a comprehensive assessment and examine the city’s police officer deployments, staffing standards, service response and crime data. The study will give recommendations for areas of improvement in the department’s organizational structure and the best way to use law enforcement personnel.
  • Safety lighting: $117,000 to purchase up to 13 mobile and temporary lighting units. It will give the police department flexibility to move the lighting and address areas with safety concerns.

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