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How Richmond's Task Force on Police Oversight Reached Their Conclusions

Bus Station shooting
Steve Helber/AP
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AP
Richmond Police

A task force created to make recommendations on the form of a Civilian Review Board in Richmond will present its final report to city council Monday.

The Task Force Task Force to Establish Civilian Oversight in Richmond, VA submitted its report on August 31st, recommending that the city create an office of Community Oversight and Police Accountability, with board members and support staff.

The recommendations come after Virginia allowed localities to create Civilian Review Boards for police that have wider powers than those that existed before.

In July SB 5035 went into effect, giving localities the ability to create bodies with investigatory and disciplinary power compared to the mostly advisory role they had.

Civilian Review Boards, or CRBs, oversee police, instead of the typical practice of internal affairs at a police department investigating misconduct. Critics of police practices around Virginia see CRBs as a way to make the police accountable and increase transparency into police practices.

Angela Fontaine, the co-chair of the task force in Richmond, had different career hopes as a young woman, which are surprising given her role as someone looking to reform the police.

“My goal was to be [in] a detective-type role working with the police department focusing on ways to keep my city safe,” she said.

But Fontaine became disillusioned with policing when she studied criminal justice in college. 

“I was like, wait a minute, like we have numbers, we have facts here. I was taught by police officers how unjust the system was. And I just couldn't, I couldn't get down with that. You know, I was like, how am I going to go work to perpetuate these issues?”

The task force used community meetings and public hearings on Zoom to determine which mix of the newly-available powers Richmonders wanted to give a CRB. The task force also tried to survey residents, and spoke to law enforcement and city councilmembers.

Eli Coston, also a co-chair of the task force, presented the task force’s findings last month. 

Probably the most striking recommendation was form: an independent city office with support staff, rather than a board.

“Don't just think of it as only a set of citizen members who are going to review cases, but as really a larger office that is supposed to help strengthen and rebuild trust between the community and the police,” they said.

This means that the task force envisions a new city office. It will accept complaints, and could investigate those complaints, using subpoena power. If the office found wrongdoing, board members could make binding disciplinary decisions.

All of these are just recommendations, and whether Richmond’s City Council will accept them isn’t clear. Richmond Police didn’t return a request for a statement on the recommendations.

Councilmember Mike Jones, who represents Richmond’s Southside, responded to questions at the removal of the Robert E Lee statue. During 2020’s protest Richmond’s Police released teargas onto a peaceful crowd that had gathered there.

“I don’t believe the police can police the police,” Jones said. “Subpoena power? Definitely, they need that. That's the only way they're going to be able to get to the root of some of these issues. Disciplinary [power]? I would have to see how that's meted out... I want a fair process for everybody that's involved.”

City council won’t vote on the recommendations on Monday, and we can expect more debate on what form, if any, Richmond’s CRB will take.

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