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Initial and current Civilian Review Board members speak about next steps

Charlottesville Police Department
Updated: Jun. 5, 2020 at 10:45 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - As people across the country decry police brutality, there's a renewed focus on Charlottesville's Police Civilian Review board. City council selected the eighth and final member of the group tasked with overseeing the police department Monday.

It comes as those who served on the initial board call for change.

The work on the civilian review board started in 2017 after the Unite the Right Rally. This is a way of improving trust between the community and the police department.

Charlottesville city council unanimously approved Phillip Seay to the board.

“I've seen a lot, both good and not so good. I feel that if I can be heard, I'm a non-voting member, and then I would think this board would be respectful of our experiences and our input,” Seay said.

With everything going on around the country with police brutality and racial injustice, Seay says his motto is to be a part of the solution, not the problem.

“We want to feel safe. We want to feel safe amongst ourselves and the people we work and live around and the people that govern us,” Seay said.

The new group has yet to meet, so the initial civilian review board is calling on Charlottesville police to take action now. They want CPD to clearly define its relationship with the CRB, detail its funding, explain what it’s doing to support black and brown people and listen.

“We're asking that the police department really back the idea of civilian oversight of law enforcement. It would include entering into a memorandum of understanding with the civilian review board so that there was an agreement on what was shared and how the process works,” Seay said.

One of the things Seay would like to see changed is more officers actually living within city limits to support community policing.

“It makes a difference when you live in the community and you visit the local stores, the groceries, the convenience marts and people see you and you can talk with people,” Seay said.

Seay hopes his experience working with law enforcement and multiple community partners will help the board make a difference.

“It's an opportunity to maybe bring some good positive change, there's a lot of things going on in our country right now and to seize all the opportunities,” Seay said.

A meeting for the board was scheduled for March, but was canceled because of the coronavirus. It’s when the first meeting will be rescheduled.

Charlottesville police did release details about some of its training and policies, including those focused on officer bias Friday. Officers undergo the state-mandated trainings in cultural diversity and legal training, and most officers have completed deescalation courses to become members of the Thomas Jefferson Crisis Intervention Team.

CPD is also providing its body camera policy and a variety of other statistics at the following links: Department Policies, Body Camera Policy, and Crime Statistics.

The full statement from Charlottesville police is available here.

Statement by Charlottesville’s Initial Police Civilian Review Board to the Charlottesville Police Department

For Immediate Release June 5, 2020

This is a message from the members of the Initial Police Civilian Review Board ("Initial CRB")

to the Charlottesville Police Department ("CPD"). As of Monday, the new iteration of the full

seven-member CRB has been formed, but it has yet to meet or begin its operations. Because of

that, we provide our voices in the arena of policing and police oversight at this critical time.

The community of Charlottesville—especially the Black community—is in deep pain right now.

We are a community that has suffered, advocated, and fought for our rights and safety long before

“Charlottesville” became a hashtag. This moment has brought to the national spotlight issues of

policing policies, officer violence, systemic racism, insufficient training and funding, and

inadequate oversight of police overreach. But police killings, police beatings, and militarized

police presence are nothing new to many of us. This community understands those problems,

because it has been in this fight for years, even decades.

The members of the Initial CRB join our larger community in advocating and demanding that City

Council revert back to our original drafted ordinance and bylaws. That is entirely up to the

leadership of City Council at this time and we will contact Council directly in a separate

statement. But, regardless of whether City Council sees fit to take action, the CPD must also take

the lead and engage in meaningful action to support our community and promote transparency and

accountability.

Today and always, we stand with our community to demand lasting change and real commitment

from the CPD. Initial CRB members devoted our terms to developing and advancing police

transparency and accountability. One of the most frustrating challenges was the ways in which we

felt the CPD often paid lip service to the need for a CRB but did very little to support us with

action. Some interactions were downright hostile, and tensions ran high both behind the scenes

and in the public eye. Surely, all parties feel wronged in one way or another, which is nothing new

to human psychology. But we should not forget that the Initial CRB—a group of unpaid

volunteers—was comparatively powerless next to a Department with an $18,000,000 annual

budget. This is part of a larger, historical legacy of the political power that police departments hold

across this country. This is why we felt the need to speak truth to power, even when it was

uncomfortable. And we remain committed to speaking truth to power.

The CPD has said that it sees and hears the voices of our communities of color and that it is ready

to heal, but a police force with the ability to take people’s liberties—and lives—needs to do more

than express sadness and concern. It needs to take decisive action. We ask Chief Brackney and the

CPD to take the following actions to show its dedication to oversight and community engagement:

1. Commit to working with the Civilian Review Board to draft a Memorandum

of Understanding.

Successful oversight requires both the police department and the community to be

meaningful participants in the process. A Memorandum of Understanding

("MOU") memorializes whether and how the CPD is willing to collaborate with

civilian oversight. It is an agreement that allows the CPD to participate in the

process by which the department will be held accountable. MOUs are nothing new.

The CPD has MOUs with Charlottesville City Schools and all other bodies with

whom it has operational relationships. But, for some reason, City Council retracted

our deliverable of creating an MOU with the CPD midway through our

appointments to the CRB. We saw the creation of an MOU as a core part of our

duties, and we were upset that City Council forced us to finish our terms without

completing this critical work. Without an MOU, the CRB is relatively toothless,

because there is little in the way of a formal structure to require the CPD to commit

to the oversight process.

The absence of the MOU, at present, would not be as problematic had City Council

enacted our ordinance. The initial CRB had drafted ordinance language that would

have mandated CPD consultation with the CRB and the community on matters like

MOUs, but City Council deleted that language from the CRB’s enabling ordinance.

We demand a written commitment from CPD that it is willing to engage

meaningfully with the CRB on development of an MOU and with the broader

community on other matters of policy and practice. There can be no meaningful

oversight without a Memorandum of Understanding and community engagement.

2. Publicly endorse the Civilian Review Board proposed budget at 1% of the

Charlottesville Police Department’s budget.

A city’s budget is a clear and concise way to gauge its priorities and what it values.

Tying the police oversight budget to the police department budget is a clear

indication that oversight is an important priority to the city, so that, as the police

department grows, so does community oversight. We ask the Police Department to

publicly endorse oversight by requesting that City Council allocate to the CRB 1%

of the departmental budget of the CPD.

3. Demonstrate increased transparency as to the CPD's operations,

complaints, data, and statistics beginning with a detailed itemization of how

the department is spending the money it has received from the City.

The Charlottesville Police Department is receiving $18,000,000 of taxpayers'

dollars this year (over $49,000 per day) but does not provide—even upon request—

a detailed accounting of how that money is spent. This is information the CPD

possesses (since it certainly tracks how it spends its money), but it has steadfastly

refused to provide this information to the public.

Chief Brackney has taken steps to provide more information to the public than

previous chiefs of police, and we thank her for that. But what she has provided is

not enough. Her data are aggregated and presented through the lens and analyses of

the department Chief Brackney represents and—understandably—seeks to protect.

This community has been fighting for access to data for years to expose the racial

injustices that we know exist, as was confirmed by the Adult Disproportionate

Minority Contact Report, published last year. Transparently sharing data is critical

to uncovering injustices. The CPD must do better by committing to consistently

provide meaningful information about its budget, policies, stops, training, uses of

force, raw data, and data-keeping procedures.

4. Listen.

The Initial CRB calls on the CPD to engage in meaningful, frequent listening

sessions with the communities most impacted by policing, particularly the Black

community, the Latinx community, communities without stable or permanent

housing, and the LGBTQ community. The CRB advises CPD leadership that there

can be no adequate community relationship building without a commitment to

compassionately, non-judgmentally, and legitimately listening to the voices of

those who are disproportionately policed.

5. Provide information and explain to the community the ways in which the

CPD is ensuring that it is protecting the rights (and lives) of Black and Brown

people in our city and other politically and socially disadvantaged groups.

This City and the CPD needs to be committed to eliminating police violence on all

fronts. This involves active engagement with community and consideration of new

and novel policing reforms. The community needs to know what, exactly, the CPD

intends to do to ensure that no CPD officer uses force disproportionately or uses its

powers to kill someone.

The nearly uncountable (and too-often unaccountable) violent deaths at the hands of police officers

across this country has renewed calls for police accountability, transparency, and policy reform

everywhere. Now is the time. And Charlottesville can be a model. Starting with these five specific

actions, the Charlottesville Police Department can show that it does care about this community,

and that proper oversight is necessary and very possible. CPD’s press releases will be nothing but

performative if they are not backed with concrete action. We demand that the Charlottesville Police

Department respond to its community with action, not just lip service.

Signed,

Gloria Beard

Josh Bowers

Sarah Burke

Rosia Parker

Katrina Turner

Guillermo Ubilla

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