The Loudoun Board of Supervisors has narrowly voted to support state legislation that would allow localities to set up law enforcement civilian review boards that could make binding disciplinary determinations.
Two bills in the General Assembly would authorized civilian review boards that could investigate complaints from the public about law enforcement, review incidents and the use of force, review internal investigations, recommend policy, and even make binding disciplinary decisions. One bill authorizes localities to set up those boards and gives them those powers, and one requires them to do so.
Sen. Ghazala F. Hashmi (D-10) introduced the bill authorizing and empowering those boards, Senate Bill 3035, and Sens. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33) and Barbara A. Favola (D-31) have signed on as co-patrons. House Bill 5055, which has four patrons and 26 co-patrons including Dels. Ibraheem S. Samirah (D-86), Kathleen Murphy (D-34), and Wendy W. Gooditis (D-10), would mandate the panels.
Both bills have been passed in their own chamber and passed to the other, and the two chambers are still hashing out the difference between them to arrive at a final bill. And legislative liaison Gwen Kennedy told supervisors during a special meeting Sept. 9 that passage of some sort of bill seems almost certain.
“We think that the mandatory provisions of the bill are not likely to stay,” Kennedy said. She noted that is consistent with the county board’s longtime stance against unfunded mandates from the state, as well as with findings that those boards are most effective when driven by their local community.
In emailed, unofficial votes before the public meeting, supervisors had supported the concept of civilian review boards 5-4, with Supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin), Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposed.
Civilian oversight of law enforcement has been a hot topic nationally in a year marked by police violence and protests sparked against it. They have been held up by proponents as a way to increase transparency in law enforcement organizations, which have broad authority to shield information from public disclosure and afford their officers protection from civil liability.
The heads of the county’s two largest law enforcement organizations, Sheriff Michael Chapman and Leesburg Police Chief Greg Brown, have both opposed the civilian oversight boards when asked to set them up by the local NAACP. Meanwhile in Purcellville, the Town Council is working to set up a civilian board with apparently a strictly advisory role.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said he was part of setting up a civilian oversight board for the Metro Transit Police Department, as part of his work on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency Board of Directors. Most police, he said, have welcomed the boards, and in most cases they have found that police did the right thing.
“We just need to be very careful in how these are put together, and the way that this General Assembly session is going, at the speed at which it’s going, I don’t have a great deal of confidence that all of these considerations are being made,” Letourneau said. In particular, he said, the civilian board should not be able to make binding decisions.
Umstattd said, “I don’t’ think our officers have shown a need for it.”
“It seems that his bill is morphing even as we speak,” Umstattd said. “I’m no longer sure what is mandatory and what is not, but I do not like the fact that it would be another unfunded mandate at a time when I believe the state continues to cut the 599 [state police aid to localities] funds to law enforcement, and they’re not offering to pay for any of this.”
Meanwhile, Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), a law enforcement officer with the United States Capitol Police, said he worried the board would be “filled with people who are anti-police,” and defended law enforcement agencies’ ability to investigate themselves impartially.
But the slim majority of supervisors supported the bills. County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said the board could, in fact, support law enforcement.
“We’ve gotten to this notion that it has to be negative or it has to be punitive,” Randall said. “I see it as just the opposite. I think it should be supportive.”
Supervisors also voted along party lines to support a bill requiring law enforcement to release publicly video footage within 15 days of any incident in which an officer used a gun, stun gun, or chemical irritant such as pepper spray.
Supervisors also affirmed unofficial emailed votes that oppose automatic expungement of some criminal convictions after eight years with no new arrests or convictions, which only Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) supported; opposed requiring a court to grant a motion to dismiss made by the state, again supported by Briskman; unanimously support an annual report on Crisis Intervention Teams across the state; and support a bill requiring law enforcement officers to render aid to people suffering serious injuries and to report wrongdoing by other officers, which only Kershner opposed.