VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The group of citizens selected by City Council to serve as a “check” on Virginia Beach Police has put forward seven recommendations aimed at improving not only their operation, but the trust the community has in them.

Since the death of George Floyd in custody of Minneapolis Police, calls for greater police accountability have increased across the country, including in Virginia Beach. Advocates want a review board in which citizens have the power to investigate police themselves and hand down discipline without the interference of the city.

Earlier in the month, the mayor and several council members voiced their support for looking into enhancing the already-formed citizen panel. While ideas brought forward Tuesday afternoon by the leadership of what is officially known as the Investigative Review Panel would not reach what advocates are pushing for, Susan Mayo, who is the current chairwoman, affirmed the group is committed to “building trust and transparency.”

“IRP members have a unique and critical role as public servants in reviewing citizen complaints,” Mayo said.

Mayo said she was appointed to the panel in 2012 following its first major “revamp” since its creation in 1991.

The panel’s current format involves a group of seven citizens appointed by the council. Through the city human resources department, that panel will become involved in either a police abuse of authority or other serious misconduct investigation once they receive a citizen complaint.

To start the process, a citizen must file a complaint with the Virginia Beach Police Department.

Following the completion of the police department’s internal affairs investigation, the panel will determine if the case meets the standards of “abuse of power” or “misconduct.” If it does, the panel will hold a hearing in which members are able to review the department’s confidential case file on the alleged incident. Both the person bringing the complaint and a representative from the police department have their chance to present their side and ultimately the panel will decide if they agree, don’t agree or don’t think enough investigating has been done to reach the conclusion reached by the department.

The panel’s recommendation is then given to the city manager, who can direct further action on any police department employee.

“I can’t think of an instance, or something in particular, that we made a recommendation for change that was ignored or not implemented. I can not recall an instance,” Mayo told City Council. “The missing communications loop is we don’t necessarily get the feedback … we don’t get formal communication … that process could possibly be improved.”

Increased communication between the police, city manager’s office and IRP was one of the seven recommendations laid out by Director of Human Resources Regina Hilliard, which included:

  1. Requiring the police to communicate with the complainant how the long the whole investigative process is expected to take
  2. Changing IRP policy to allow the panel to hear all complaints they are requested to hear, even if they don’t surround “abuse of power” or “misconduct”
  3. Expand the number of panelists to enhance diversity
  4. Publicize the panel’s services on social media
  5. Initiate new police/city manager communication for cases reviewed by the IRP to include posting actions on the IRP webpage
  6. Change name to Citizen Review Board for clarity
  7. Assign a City Council representative to communicate with the panel

The panel has not held a hearing since 2018 because all three cases sent to the board for review failed to meet the criteria for further review, according to the city.

In 2019, there were more complaints against police officers filed by other police officers then there were citizen complaints filed, Deputy Chief Patrick Gallagher told City Council.

Still, several council members are still pushing for more.

Councilman Aaron Rouse asked if there was a way to change the process so that complaints wouldn’t start with the police department.

“I think it’s important when we look at the process we improve that process in the way that it works to we give it more authority … more integrity,” Rouse said.

Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten advised that unless the panel is given investigative power “we will continue to see protests and unrest all over our city until we answer that call.”

Wooten asked for new City Manager Patrick Duhaney to explore what can legally be done.

Mayor Bobby Dyer explained that he hopes some recommendations, such as adding a council liaison could be implemented “soon.”

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