Plans for Police Accountability Panel Under Review in Purcellville

Although Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister hasn’t been on the job for six months, the town continues looking at ways to improve its police operations.

Town officials and residents have been coming up with initiatives aimed to strengthen its police department for years, some of which have succeeded and others that are still being developed or have failed to launch. A few of these arose within the past few months, after a town-initiated investigation found that claims of misconduct against McAlister were “substantiated.” While these findings have since been clouded by the alleged misconduct of the investigators, multiple initiatives were suggested to help bolster the force.

One is the creation of an Office of Police Accountability, which Mayor Kwasi Fraser proposed Nov. 1 after town council was unanimous in a vote of “no confidence” in McAlister. This initiative could provide civilian oversight of the civilian complaint process, promote public awareness of and full access to the police department and ensure full and fair accountability within the police department. Fraser said at the time that the office would be made up of town personnel and members of the community.

The mayor also wants the town to implement a Community Policing Plan, which would assign a police officer to every neighborhood to attend HOA meetings. “This will help build relationships and strengthen the bond between the Purcellville Police Department and the communities and citizens they serve,” he said in November.

Kwasi has not returned calls or emails requesting information on the status of his proposals.

Interim Town Manager John Anzivino said plans for these initiatives are under review.

A year before the investigation, in October 2016, the Police Department tried to form a Citizens Advisory Committee to “serve as one of many avenues to bring community concerns to the police department and also a way to inform and educate the community members on the role of the police, crime trends, initiatives, resources and accomplishments,” according to a town statement.

The committee was to be made up of 10 members—one representative from each of the town’s eight police service areas and one from each of the town’s two high schools. The initiative never worked out, though, because of a lack in community involvement.

“We just didn’t get any support,” said Acting Police Chief Joe Schroeck. “It’s something we may want to revisit.”

One successful initiative that has supported the department for nearly two decades is the Purcellville Citizens Support Team, which was formed by a group of volunteers “to aid and support the Purcellville police in the prevention of crime and the promotion of safety,” according to the town website. Although they used to help with community patrol, Schroeck said the team’s current four members now mainly help with traffic control at community events. “They’ve been big help,” he said.

Also, the department is planning a citizen survey to gather feedback from residents and businesses on crime, quality of life issues and opinions about the department’s effectiveness.

“The results are to enhance policing services and to direct the department as we strive to provide the most responsive, cost efficient and compassionate police services possible,” according to a town statement.

While the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission accreditation requires the department to release these types of surveys every two years, Schroeck said they’re always used to enhance operations.

“We’ll collectively sit down and see what the comments are,” he said. “We’ll take those things in—I think it’s important.”

Once finalized, the survey can be filled out on the town website or in-person at the police department on Hirst Road.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

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