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New civilian police oversight plan includes changes to membership, accountability

Mayor Levar Stoney speaks outside.
Crixell Matthews
On Monday, Mayor Levar Stoney and four councilmembers introduced new legislation to create a civilian review board, replacing legislation he introduced in March and withdrew in July. (File photo: Crixell Matthews)

A new ordinance that would create a civilian body to oversee the Richmond Police Department includes changes that have prompted criticism from criminal justice reform advocates and The Richmond City Democratic Committee. 

Mayor Levar Stoney and four councilmembers introduced new legislation to create a civilian review board Monday, replacing legislation he introduced in March and withdrew in July.  

The eight-member board — supported by a full-time staffer appointed by City Council — would review police shootings, as well as other injuries or deaths that occurred while individuals were in custody. The group would then make a report or recommendation to the chief of police, the mayor and City Council. 

“This new proposal reflects a collaborative effort with members of city council and I greatly appreciate their critical insight,” Stoney said in a Monday press release. “The result is a CRB that will be equipped to respond to the needs of our community, ensure accountability and enhance the public safety of all Richmond residents.” 

The new legislation’s most significant change from the plan withdrawn in July concerns membership. The current legislation includes an eight-member board: four appointed by the mayor and four by City Council. The earlier legislation included one member appointed by the chief of police, three appointed by City Council and three by the mayor.  

Eli Coston, co-chairperson of a task force appointed to explore possibilities for the civilian review board, tweeted Tuesday that the even number of board seats would make it less effective.  

“Some of the changes will actually make the CRB less effective (8 members with tie votes failing, higher percentage of votes for a subpoena). They don’t want oversight,” Coston wrote.  

Even with the changes, the board would not be able to issue a subpoena and would have to apply for one through Richmond Circuit Court. The new legislation requires six — rather than the five votes previously called for — to apply to the court.  

The board would be able to review all of the department’s investigations into police shootings, serious injuries or death while in police custody, accusations of physical and verbal abuse, and appeals of police findings. These inquiries only would happen after a police investigation — but before discipline is imposed. The use of third-party investigators would depend on “the availability of sufficient funds.” 

The board’s yearly budget is estimated to be $200,000.  

“This proposal falls short in one very specific way. The disciplinary authority, the final disciplinary authority under this paper, is still the chief of police,” said Tom Barbour, chair of RCDC's Resolution Committee. “The problem with that is that right now, we've got a chief of police who seems to be having some trouble taking accountability for his own actions in the Dogwood Dell incident. I think that should give Council and the city and Richmonders pause about whether this paper is going to create a civilian review board that is effective.” 

The new legislation features several other notable differences: It removes a required period of residency in the city of Richmond in favor of having current residency; no more than two board members can live in the same City Council district; and members — as well as their family members — cannot have a pending complaint or litigation against the police department.  

City Council would also appoint a full-time staffer, who would prepare the board’s recommended policies and procedures. That staffer would serve at the pleasure of Council, rather than being an employee assigned to the board by the inspector general, who previously expressed reservations about connecting the CRB to his office. 

Two notable changes were made on accountability. Most significantly, the city’s chief administrative officer will pick a third party to evaluate the board during the CRB’s first year. The board will also write a yearly report to the mayor and Council; the withdrawn legislation required the report to be submitted to the chief of police.

The mayor’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment on this story.  

The civilian review board legislation will be officially discussed at City Council’s Public Safety Standing Committee meeting on Sept. 27.  

Jahd Khalil covers local government, the economy and labor issues for VPM News. Previously, he covered state government for RadioIQ and was a freelance journalist based in Egypt.