Five years later, Charlottesville still faces police reform challenges | local government

Charlottesville residents and officials have been forced to scrutinize police in the city as the region’s racist legacy was laid bare in August 2017, and community members have voiced their criticism of the management by the local and state police from white supremacist attacks. The work of local activists led to the creation of the Police Civilian Review Board, now called the Police Civilian Oversight Board. City officials were still reeling from what some see as their failure to keep the community safe at the Unite the Right rally five years ago today the city council opted to disband the advisory committee of citizens in favor of a new independent review board for the police service. The board has evolved over the past few years, with the town hiring a director last year.

“The efforts of this first group of individuals who came together and really paved the way for a city the size of Charlottesville to say, ‘We need accountability and accessibility in policing’ – it’s is almost unheard of,” said Ashley Marshall, Charlottesville’s Deputy City Manager for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

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But community members have remained critical of the city’s approach to police reform over the past five years, fearing there hasn’t been enough change.

“I was present at the torch rally on August 11 [2017]. And I watched the police stand back,” said Brad Slocum, secretary of the Charlottesville Regional Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “The city has not only failed to solve some of the problems [of policing] but in fact, he kind of backed off on them.

And when it comes to race, there’s little evidence that much has changed.

A report released earlier this year found that the Charlottesville Police Department continues to show a trend of arresting more blacks than whites. In 2021, 56% of total arrests were black people, while 42% were white people. These statistics remain unchanged from 2020, although 2021 saw a decrease in the total number of arrests to 831 from 922 in 2020. According to 2020 census data, 65.18% of the city’s population is white and 15.3% of the city’s population is black.

“The Charlottesville Police Department is committed to breaking down barriers in order to practice 21st century policing. Crime is not just a police problem, it is a social problem, and we are committed to working with the community to develop solutions. If we want to be the change and change the narrative, we have to work together,” CPD wrote in a statement to Daily Progress.

“The scars of August 2017 remain, but what matters is how we move forward and grow together. We realize that after this event, the public perception of policing in America has been tarnished. We hope that “together with our team of honorable and trusted officers, we can restore trust and bring new meaning to policing in Charlottesville. We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethical conduct and care at all times. “Integrity. We are the stewards of the community. Above all else, we are here to protect and serve the citizens of Charlottesville,” the statement continued.

Budget, transparency are concerns

Community members, activists and even city councilors have called for more transparency in the police department’s budget. While the ministry received approximately $1.3 million more than in previous years, community members have expressed concern about where the money from this budget is going.

Elizabeth Stark, co-chair of the Charlottesville Regional Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said it’s hard to know what needs to be reformed when the budget isn’t detailed.

“We can’t begin to gauge the effectiveness of policing and what the cops are actually doing in our community until we have that information,” she said.

Another issue is morale. Former Chief RaShall Brackney was fired last year and is suing the city for race, color and gender discrimination. In the lawsuit, she alleges that she was fired because of her reform efforts. City officials pointed to an exodus of officers from the department when explaining the decision to part ways with Brackney, with officials saying morale was low among officers.

Now, as the city embarks on its search for a new police chief, the same questions that arose about policing in August 2017 are coming up again.

“We need to establish a culture of surveillance,” said Hansel Aguilar, the city’s new PCBB director. “It will be difficult to make recommendations about what policing looks like in the 21st century without knowing it, without doing an audit of the department.”

This would include analysis of departmental practices and what may need to be reformed.

The 21st Century Policing Model was created by an Obama administration task force to identify best policing practices and offer recommendations on how these practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public confidence. audience.

PCOB member Nancy Carpenter said she believes the council needs to do more to work with the community, especially those who are most marginalized by the police.

“It’s more than just setting up a table at a festival or whatever,” Carpenter said. “I hope we can really have public comments and open conversations. We have to recognize that we have a problem with policing in this community. If you listen to people talking about their community, you know that [problem] exist. »

This is one of the changes Aguilar wants to make. He said that under PCOB’s new operating procedures and changes in Virginia state law, the board can do more than in the past, and that includes holding forums for community input. .

However, Aguilar says police reform must be a collaborative effort to succeed. He quoted his report to city council in November 2021: “Civilian oversight, however, is not the panacea for solving all policing problems. To tackle systemic issues in policing, we need a multifaceted, evidence-based and trauma-informed approach that includes all sectors of society.

Carpenter wants the city and PCOB to work with community groups such as Peace In The Streets and the BUCK Squad, which aim to defuse potentially violent situations before the police get involved. The city council has invested in the programming of these groups, but Carpenter sees more room for direct collaboration.

As the city considers hiring a police chief, community input has been at the forefront of the discussion. The city hired POLIHIRE, a Washington, DC-based research company, to manage the research. POLIHIRE released a survey to gather feedback from residents on what they expect from their new boss to help build a profile of the ideal candidate as the company begins advertising, interviewing and hiring. The survey, created and managed by POLIHIRE, also asks for information on the most important topics the next leader needs to address and advice residents may have.

Mayor Lloyd Snook has his own thoughts and vision for the future of the city’s police force.

“I would like to see a police chief who is committed to the 21st century model of policing,” Snook said. “You need two things: you need to have a clear vision and you need the ability to attract and keep a team committed to that vision. So what we are looking for and recommending that the City Manager is looking for is someone who has both the vision and the ability to build and keep a team.

Snook said while Acting City Manager Michael C. Rogers will ultimately be tasked with making the decision, City Council will be able to make recommendations. And Snook said he hopes community members have their say throughout the hiring process.

“There will be plenty of opportunities for people to tell us up front what they’re looking for and what we should try to incorporate into our decision-making process,” Snook said.