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City, Police and Advocates Divided Over Community Police Review Board Authority

Alexandria’s Police Chief Michael L. Brown is concerned that establishing a community police review board with independent investigative authority will create considerable legal problems for his department.

Last month, City Council sent back the city manager’s initial proposal for the board. Council requested that there be an option to include an auditor/independent investigator with subpoena power. Council unanimously directed staff to draw up the proposal during a period of social unrest in the wake of the George Floyd murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police, and Brown and his officers participated in protests around the city.

Brown previously said in June that such a review board has a negative connotation, and last month a police union called the board “superfluous“.

“I’m not afraid of oversight,” Brown said in an Agenda Alexandria discussion on Monday, October 26. “The concern I had at that point in time, we were in the middle of a national narrative against police. And when you look at policing as a whole, there are problematic police officers, there are problematic agencies. I do not believe the Alexandria police department is one of those.”

Brown added:

It’s not because we’re afraid of an independent investigator. It’s a legal issue, because if you get into situations, for example, that you violate Garrity Rules or other kinds of rules related to collective bargaining where you can’t get the facts of the case because of people doing it the wrong way, you may not be able to do criminal prosecution and the like. As a police agency, we need to get the facts of how things went, and the facts will tell us what we need to procedurally and otherwise. There’s a very fine line about what we can do as an employer. We can compel testimony. If you issue a subpoena to somebody they can invoke their Fifth Amendment right, and when you do that you sometimes run into all sorts of legal and constitutional issues. Now, if the folks that set up an independent review are able to understand that and not step on those who may not jeopardize situations where we have discipline and may not jeopardize potential criminal prosecution.

Sarah Graham Taylor, the city’s legislative director, is drafting the proposal for council to consider. She said that there are some rules regarding investigative authority in police review boards around the country.

“Most oversight bodies that have subpoena power, including places like Berkeley and San Francisco, are actually prohibited from undertaking any investigation until the any pending criminal charges against an officer have been adjudicated or unless they received permission from their district attorney or in our case, our Commonwealth’s Attorney to proceed with the investigation,” Taylor said.

Ingris Moran of Tenants & Workers United said that the community wants answers regarding police conduct, since 41% of all arrests last year in the city were of Black men.

“I think at this point our community members want truth,” Moran said. “They want answers. And so I think this overall is going to be a good opportunity at least have that first step to see how we can have our community in control have more community control and see what’s really going on in the city of Alexandria.”

City Council will discuss the updated proposal on November 10.

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