The Alexandria City Council unanimously agreed last night (Tuesday) that the city should Endorse a resolution condemning systemic racism and establish a community police review board. That vote was preceded by hours of heated debate on Council over red tape.
Some members were concerned that a new community police review board — which would investigate alleged abuses and use of force — would overlap with the City’s Human Rights Commission, the body which currently investigates instances where force is used.
“My only concern is trying to identify the gaps in what we currently have with the Human Rights Commission,” Wilson said. “Our end state is the set of functions and responsibilities for whatever that oversight of policing is to be. I guess my pause about the final resolve statement is — I read it as hyper-prescriptive to what that model looks like.”
After Police Chief Michael Brown said earlier in the meeting he was concerned that the two bodies might overlap, Mayor Justin Wilson said he thought the language should be tweaked to allow more investigation into how to put a community police review board together.
Chief Michael Brown offered to put something together with Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks and present it to the City Council.
“I do not disagree with the concept of oversight,” said Brown. “I may be mincing words here, but a ‘review board’ as it’s phrased in our world, in policing, has a very negative connotation. It might be worth accomplishing the same things and accomplishing what Councilman Seifeldein wants to do and create our own that works for us.”
Wilson said the proposal could benefit from working with the Human Rights Commission before their authority to oversee use-of-force by the police is extricated and given to another body.
“I would be interested in learning more about how that structure occurs before endorsing a specific model,” Wilson said.
Others noted that the Human Rights Commission has a much broader scope of work than just police accountability and its membership is not chosen specifically with police oversight in mind.
The three council members of color expressed concern that passing a resolution condemning systemic racism discussing police brutality without making forward progress on actually putting a review board together made the condemnation hollow.
“Now it’s time to act,” said City Councilman Mo Seifeldein, who authored the resolution. “We’re trying to do something in action that is so basic and fundamental to government and democracy, and it’s being met with bureaucracy and red tape and other sentiments that don’t make much sense.”
Councilman Canek Aguirre said at the several vigils held over the last few weeks in Alexandria it was reiterated that talk is cheap and many Alexandrians are demanding action.
Councilman John Chapman said he remembered having similar conversations in 2010 and 2011 with the NAACP.
“In my view it is better to bring it this way and have some thoughtful conversation around it [as opposed to] a higher agency telling us we have to implement it,” Chapman said. “This is an opportunity to provide governing and transparency to an area most residents and citizens don’t fully understand.”
The Council acquiesced, but Seifeldein made it clear that the final result must be something that works as an arm of the City Council, not as a project of the City Manager and law enforcement.
Staff photo by James Cullum