Originally published by 8/10/21 by Brett Hall/WAVY.com
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach city leaders have decided to form a more powerful citizen review board that will serve as an oversight group for the Virginia Beach Police Department.
Virginia Beach City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to establish a police citizen review board with subpoena power that’ll investigate alleged cases of police misconduct and abuse of authority within the police department.
It’s still unclear how long it will take for the board to actually get up and running, but supporters cheered the vote as a great “first step.”
The model will replace the city’s current Independent Review Panel, which only reviews police internal affairs reports on an incident after they are completed. Critics of the IRP say it isn’t effective and doesn’t have enough power to ensure accountability.
Previously, City Council decided not to consider adding newly granted subpoena and disciplinary powers — allowed under a 2020 bill approved by Virginia lawmakers — to their system.
The big push to reconsider adding those powers came after the officer-involved killing of Donovon Lynch in March. Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten brought the idea of a task force forward to study the issue of the new state powers.
While the task force was only formed on a 6-5 vote, Mayor Bobby Dyer — who initially voted against the idea — said in retrospect, the outcome was positive.
“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation we have voted on this year,” Wooten said Tuesday.
She said it is about providing an increased sense of transparency and accountability for Virginia Beach police. She added that she would favor future changes to be made to how subpoenas are obtained and who gets to hire staff for the board.
Longtime law enforcement officer and Councilman Rocky Holcomb said he supports the board’s creation but has some concerns too, such as if someone could be held in contempt of court for refusing to testify in front of the board.
The 11-member task force recommended that a subpoena only be requested by the citizen group from a circuit court judge following a completed internal affairs investigation by the police department and “after all good-faith attempts to obtain an interview or documentary evidence are exhausted.”
The new board will be able to do independent reviews of any citizen complaint, internal investigation or police policies and procedures. Members would also be required to look into deaths or serious injuries that result from police action.
The board will have the power to recommend — but not carry out — disciplinary action.
The next steps call for City Council to name appointments to the citizen group that will have 11 members and two non-voting members with staggered terms. They’ll receive about 45 hours of training including police ride-alongs and police academy lectures before they start hearing cases.
The city manager will also be charged with hiring a board coordinator.
In the meantime, the IRP will remain in use.
“It’s taken a long time to come to this,” Wayne Lynch, Donovon’s father said following the vote. “This is the first step.”