During a roundtable discussion organized by the Loudoun NAACP, the heads of Loudoun’s two largest law enforcement agencies resisted a proposal to stand up a citizen oversight board for police and sheriff’s deputies.
Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas organized the May 30 conference call against the backdrop of protests around the country sparked by police killings of black people that have made headlines once again.
Thomas pushed Leesburg Chief of Police Greg Brown and Loudoun Sheriff Michael L. Chapman on the proposal. On the same call, U.S. Rep. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-VA-10) pointed out such a committee, the Fairfax County Police Civilian Review Panel, already exists in Fairfax County. That panel meets monthly and reviews investigations into complaints against police “to ensure accuracy, completeness, thoroughness, objectivity, and impartiality.” Its meetings are open to the public.
“I answer directly to the public, and so the public actually is my citizen review board, and believe me, if we’re doing something that they don’t like I hear about it, and I hear about it a lot, so we already have it in a sense, because I’m an elected official,” Chapman said.
“We need to make sure that we do not continue to take a national narrative [and] apply something that’s happening 800 miles away to the folks that are doing good work here,” Brown said, saying he does not see a need.
“It is not a need for half of the laws on the books, but they are there when things happen, so I don’t want to position our community to depend on solely just the goodness and the integrity of Mike Chapman and Greg Brown,” Thomas said. “I know good and well that my kids are safe right now, but I just worry about when you retire.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj also argued that people working in the justice system—including in her own office—should have their records open to public scrutiny, including allegations of misconduct. In Virginia and Loudoun, typically misconduct complaints and allegations against public employees are hidden from public disclosure by exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act for personnel matters.
“What we need to figure out is, how do we have that transparency amongst the agencies in the community so that it’s not a shield that is used, that is their employee rights or is their IA rights,” Biberaj said.
“We see the nation on fire,” Thomas said. “We see literally the nation, many parts of our nation have been looted, burned, as a response of people who have not been heard. And justice has escaped them again and again as they have sacrificed their black men and women, not because they willingly have done it—their black men and women have been taken from them. And so there is a discussion in tears that manifests in looting and burning and tearing up one’s own home, which is mind-boggling, but what is even more mind-boggling is that that has to happen before action can take place.”