Steps to Justice: African American leadership issues and recommendations for Virginia Beach

Ed. note – What follows is the text of a plan submitted by the Virginia Beach NAACP, the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference and the Virginia Beach African American Leadership Forum to the city a month ago.  On Tuesday, Oct. 4, members of the organizations that wrote the plan, which discusses race relations and relationships between citizens and law enforcement, addressed the city council after awaiting a response. On Saturday, Oct. 8, officials met with representatives from the city at the Virginia Beach Conference Center. Southsidedaily.com reported that the city talked about its efforts and vowed to work on other issues raised herein. The following has been edited for length and style. The original included timelines for various points, which are not included here. A copy of the full report can be found at this link.

VIRGINIA BEACH — In the wake of high-profile incidents involving officers and civilians, city management must ensure focus on transparency, accountability and community trust within the law enforcement community. 

Across the nation, there can be seen a directed law enforcement effort toward community policing, the effort to increase two-way transparency and instill not only accountability but a condition of trust. 

Virginia Beach has a highly rated law enforcement organization. However, that rating is based mostly on the crime rate, arrest and citation record. Because there was no mandatory requirement to report some enforcement tactics and resultant actions to the U.S. Justice Department, other issues which would have a negative impact are kept quiet with suspicious withholding of findings. 

In conjunction with the following action plan, it is requested that policy be initiated at the state level requiring police departments to have a written policy on officer-involved deaths. Civilian deaths that occur prior to arrest, during arrest attempt and while in custody must be included. As part of that policy, at least two outside investigating entities must be brought in to handle these cases. Additionally, although internal investigations will still be conducted, they cannot interfere with the work of the outside investigations. 

The policy would also provide for clearer assistance to victims’ families. They must be informed of their legal right, and be told how to file complaints and pursue charges if they don’t agree with the decision of a local commonwealth or district attorney. 

Lastly, the investigation of an officer-involved death must be publicly reported if it does not lead to the prosecution of that officer. 

With the advent of body cameras, the utilization is believed to lessen the chance of violent encounters between police and civilians. Their use might also enhance investigations and help improve public trust in police. 

However, the use of body cameras raises a number of other policy questions — above and beyond whether they are worth the investment. 

For example, which law enforcement officers, if any, should be required to wear body cameras? When do the cameras have to be turned on? When can an officer turn off the body camera during or after an incident and on whose authority? How long do police agencies have to retain audio and video from body camera recordings? Who has access to the recordings? Who pays for the cameras and for the data storage? 

This body believes that leadership at the state level is needed for conformity at all law enforcement levels statewide. Legislation is needed with regard to use of body cameras that direct every law enforcement entity, state, county and municipal law-enforcement officers, to wear body cameras while performing their duties interacting with members of the community. 

[I]t is the attitude, of some, to point the finger outside, such as in the case of “Black Lives Matter” […]. 

There is no room for blind trust or “one way street” trust. It must go both ways and be stated in the policy and enforcement of that policy. Such policy and enforcement of such must also be transparent publicly. 

Simply, no amount of public meetings, church gatherings or protests can solve the problem. The problem is internal. 

In that regard, internal police politics must attack the problem and that must be transparent and open to outside scrutiny. That outside — civilian review board — scrutiny must not only have city management selection and the city council approval but also a fair balance of selection by the public with sufficient diversity of persons and some relative experience to look beyond the apparent to see what’s underlying. 

Goal 1: Recruitment, retention and promotion of African American police officers

Increase recruitment, retention and promotion of African American police officers in order to reflect the demographics of Virginia Beach which is currently over 20 percent African American 

Change the decision making process for all officer promotions, lieutenant and above, so that the city manager and deputy city manager are accountable and active participants along with the chief.

Create and fund a full-time paid cadet program focused on hiring African American High School graduates. Maintain program until Virginia Beach Police Department staff reflects the demographics of the city.

Ensure that nepotism policies are in place that prevent hiring and promotion of family members of existing officers.

Goal 2: Improve reporting and data collection by the city police department in order to create and foster transparent relationship with African American communities in Virginia Beach, and eliminate racial profiling. 

In addition to arrests, begin collecting and reporting all pedestrian stops/searches even when — especially when — there is no arrest. Data should include race and gender [information] as well as stop location by community. 

Collect and report the number and type of citizen complaints made against officers. Data should include racial/gender breakout of citizens as well as the location (citizen’s community). 

Create a racially diverse volunteer Citizen’s Review Board that will look at all citizen complaints made on officers and seek to resolve the issue and rehabilitate the citizen-officer relationship. Board reports directly to deputy city manager. 

Ensure the citizen’s review board has access to all data pertinent to the complaint (i.e. video from cell phone, dash-cam, security cameras, etc.). 

Ensure the board has the authority to recommend various actions such as dismissal of the complaint, mediation, suspension or termination of the officer 

Make it mandatory to report to state and FBI on all officer-involved shootings, in custody deaths and uses of deadly force

Goal 3: Institutionalize the use of body cameras in the department and all other Law Enforcement Agencies within the State. 

Deploy body cameras for all VB police officers operating in the field or who have the potential to interact with citizens. 

Draft and implement a comprehensive body camera policy that outlines mandatory wearing, turn on / off, and punishment for policy violation. 

Ensure policy gives authority to Citizens Review Board to review body camera video. 

Goal 4: Change the culture of the Virginia Beach Police Department from a “Code of Blue Silence” to a culture of transparency 

Implement a whistleblower protection program for officers who report racially insensitive, offensive, abusive, or criminal conduct by other officers. 

Establish disciplinary policies that hold officers accountable for on- or off-duty misconduct to include insensitive or abusive expressions via social media. 

End all support and participation in Blue Lives Matter activities. This is a code for “We are against Black Lives Matter,” and it further deteriorates relations with African Americans. 

Goal 5: Improve training and performance review systems for all personnel within the Virginia Beach Police Department

Ensure all officers are annually trained on diversity and inclusion. 

Ensure all officers, as a result of this training, are capable of consistently demonstrating competence in racial/cultural sensitivity. 

Ensure all officers are capable of interacting with citizens suffering from mental illness. 

Ensure all officers are trained on how to de-escalate volatile situations and how to use less than lethal tactics/technologies when possible. 

Ensure all officers’ performance reviews include a diversity/inclusion component in the weighting to move the department closer to a community policing model and away from a militaristic model. 

Ensure performance review competencies are weighted so that no officer can remain employed if they fail to meet standards for diversity, inclusion and cultural sensitivity. 

Ensure stop/search/frisk data, regardless of whether it leads to an arrest, is used in measuring an officer’s performance. 

© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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