Purcellville Creates Citizen-Led Police Advisory Group

The Purcellville Police Department will soon be observed and advised by a handful of civilians, but not before residents get the chance to voice their support or opposition to that type of authority.

The Town Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to create a Community Policing Advisory Committee. According to the resolution, the committee is proposed to advise the Town Council on police-community relations, police training and police protocols; improve public trust of police by increasing communication and transparency; raise awareness about policing injustices, a clause that originally was written as “racial injustices”; promote public education on policing matters; and promote the fair and equal treatment of all residents by police.

Residents will have an opportunity to provide input on the creation of the group during a Sept. 8 public hearing, at which point the town staff should have a draft ordinance affirming the committee’s creation that the council will consider.

Police Chief Cynthia McAlister said she felt the committee would help the Police Department better disseminate information to residents and relay community concerns to the department.

Although council members were in agreement with the intent of the committee’s formation—which former councilman Nedim Ogelman and 21-year town resident Molly Magoffin spearheaded—some expressed concern about its proposed mission statement.

Councilman Ted Greenly said he was concerned about the tone of the document and that certain aspects could have legal implications, such as the clause that states the committee would craft solutions “to multi-faceted community concerns.” “I’m a little skittish about that,” Greenly said.

Greenly said he would like to see committee members work collaboratively with town officials, and not so much hold them accountable when they “adopt or reject law enforcement policies based on [the committee’s] advice,” according to the proposed mission statement.

Overall, Greenly said the mission statement needs to be broadened so the committee does not control the Police Department, but helps officers to “remain at the top of their game.” He questioned whether committee members would be qualified to advise the Town Council on police training and protocols.

McAlister said she felt a broader mission statement would provide the committee with greater opportunity to advise on more matters.

Councilman Tip Stinnette said the town needs to be careful defining the ways in which the committee should be allowed to provide input on the Police Department’s budget. He noted that the language included in the proposed mission statement “smacks of defund the police” and that the committee would be “dead on arrival” if it the mission statement remains written in the way.

According to the proposed mission statement, the committee’s duties would include “assisting with the budget process for law enforcement through an in-depth review of the budget, carrying out program evaluation, and providing recommendations for reprioritizing distribution of funding within the police department.”

Councilman Joel Grewe said he was skeptical about the committee’s ability to “improve public trust of police by increasing communication and transparency” and “raise awareness about injustices in policing.”

He asked whether the town even experiences injustices in policing—such as the alleged racial profiling five Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office deputies committed last week.

“I don’t want this to be interpreted as an ‘I don’t trust you’ slap on our Police Department. We just got rated as the safest town in the state,” he said. “I don’t want to undermine the morale of the department.”

Ogelman emphasized the committee would strictly be an advisory committee that would provide recommendations to the Town Council—meaning, for instance, the committee would have no ability to allocate Police Department funding. Instead, it would merely advise the Town Council on how that funding should be distributed.

“That means that nobody could make any decisions about resources other than you all, the elected body,” he told Town Council members.

Read the full proposed mission statement here. Read the resolution to create the committee here.

pszabo@loudounnow.com