VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Mayor Bobby Dyer said if he could do it over, he would have voted in favor of establishing the task force that drafted the guidelines for a police citizen review board.
Dyer’s comments come ahead of a vote of Virginia Beach City Council Tuesday on whether to establish a board with the power to investigate alleged cases of police misconduct and abuse of authority.
If approved, the model recommended by the task force would replace the city’s current Independent Review Panel, which only reviews police internal affairs reports on an incident after they are completed.
Dyer’s support changes the tone in what has been a divisive issue among city leaders.
Calls for change came from civil rights advocates following high-profile police-involved killings in the United States in summer 2020. They criticized the current model for “not having enough teeth.”
Initially, City Council’s majority chose not to consider adding newly granted subpoena and disciplinary powers to their system.
Following a Virginia Beach police officer’s killing of Donovon Lynch in March, Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten brought the idea of a task force forward to study the issue.
In April, Dyer was one of the five members of City Council who voted against forming a task force to study what changes could be made to the way its citizen-led police watchdog group operates. Specifically: if the board should be given subpoena power.
At the time Dyer cited efforts to “defund the police” as reasons why he voted against the formation of the task force. The Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association, a supporter of Dyer’s, also opposed it.
“In retrospect, I will admit, that the group we put together to form that task force came up with what I think was a real winning plan for it,” Dyer said.
The 11-member task force that met for two months recommended 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
The new board will also have the authority to conduct an independent review of any citizen complaint, internal investigation or police policies and procedures. They would be mandated to look into the death or serious injury of a person because of police action.
The board will ultimately have the power to recommend disciplinary action, but not implement it.
The City Council would appoint 11 voting board members and two non-voting members to staggered terms. It’s estimated board members will need around 45 hours of training before starting their work, to include police ride-alongs and police academy lectures.
“I think we found that win-win situation we can all live with,” Dyer said. “Our goal ultimately is to build trust and community in Virginia Beach.”
Still, some advocates are pushing the city to go further.
Gary McCollum, a longtime civil rights activist, wants the appointed board to be able to select their board coordinator, rather than the city manager.
He also wants it to be easier for a subpoena to be issued and for disciplinary action powers.
Still, he commented that the current plan was “a good first step.”
City Council plans to vote on the board’s formation Tuesday at 6 p.m.