Alexandria’s development of a community police review board is too insular and groups representing the city’s minority populations are not being consulted, says Alexandria NAACP President Christopher Harris and community advocates.
“It appears to be an insular process,” Harris told ALXnow. “I would think that at the least out of courtesy you would reach out to the NAACP to get feedback and input, given that most of the people affected are members of the African American community.”
Harris added, “I think Tenants & Workers United should be included as well. They represent the Latino community. They deserve to be included in the conversation, but it appears that no one cares. these decisions are being made unilaterally in my opinion. you can’t have unaffected communities making decisions for the affected communities.”
Harris is also a member of the executive board of the Alexandria Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which is currently the only public body that looks at police summaries of closed internal investigations.
The spotlight got turned on the police during the pandemic when a third of patrol officers were sent home to telework, followed by national unrest over policing in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Protests erupted throughout the city, as King Street was shut down and protestors railed against unfair police practices. Brown would later join participants at a vigil in front of police headquarters, and later wrote a letter to the community stating that things do, in fact, need to change.
“It is my sincere hope that we finally address these issues – in policing, in the criminal justice system, and the socioeconomic arena,” Brown wrote. “We need to heal!”
At the meeting on June 9, members of the City Council, Police Chief Michael Brown and the city manager discussed how the roles of the new review board and the Human Rights Commission might overlap. As previously reported, Brown said that the concept of a review board had a negative connotation and requested that he and the city manager draw up a proposal.
“I do not disagree with the concept of oversight,” Brown said. “I may be mincing words here, but a ‘review board’ as it’s phrased in our world, in policing, has a very negative connotation.”
Monika Jones Chapman is the former chair of the Human Rights Commission, and along with former Commissioner LaDonna Sanders, wants an independent auditor to be included in the new review board. Chapman is also married to Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman.
In a letter to the editor sent to Alexandria publications, Chapman and Sanders wrote that the AHRC is the only civilian group that receives summaries of closed internal police investigations, and that after committee meetings the summaries are collected by police.
“In fact, these reports are given at the beginning of a meeting and collected at the end,” Chapman and Sanders wrote. “This prevents committee members from conducting thoughtful analysis, obtaining input from the entire commission or community, and conducting trend analysis to make informed recommendations.”
The pair also want greater data transparency over arrests and other confrontations, as 64% of all arrests last year in the city were of Black men.
“An independent police auditor, and collaborating review board, must be independent of law enforcement, have sufficient resources and funding to support its operations, and access to police files and data to make informed recommendations to law enforcement, city council, and the Alexandria community,” the pair wrote.
Staff photo by Vernon Miles