Purcellville council set to vote Oct 13 to create police advisory committee

Purcellville City Council is set to vote in three weeks to create a citizen-led committee that will advise council on how residents think the police force should operate. After a discussion on Tuesday evening, the vote will likely be unanimous.

The proposed Community Policing Advisory Committee would provide council with recommendations on municipal policing policies and practices. At the end of a nearly two-hour discussion this week, Mayor Kwasi Fraser conducted a straw poll to determine whether council members would be comfortable voting on the committee’s creation at the council meeting. municipal council of October 13. The six board members said they would vote “yes” to create the committee at this meeting, based on the changes and additions they made to the ordinance proposed by the committee this week.

“It sounds positive,” Fraser said.

The proposal to create the Police Advisory Committee follows a June 7 Black Lives Matter march in town, which prompted former city councilor Nedim Ogelman and longtime resident Molly Magoffin to suggest the formation of the group.

To hear the opinions of residents on the constitution of the group, the City Council held a public hearing on September 8, in which five residents were either opposed or concerned about the formation of the group while three came out in favor.

Reason for training; Mission

According to the proposed ordinance to create the committee, the group will be formed to improve communication and community engagement between city council, city police and residents with respect to police-community relations, police training and protocols. police officers; promote the equal and fair treatment of all citizens by municipal police officers; promote respect for the municipal police by recognizing their extensive training and good work; raise awareness of racial injustice in policing and learn about ways the city seeks to promote racial equality in policing; and improve public confidence in municipal police through increased communication and education.

The committee’s proposed mission is to engage in dialogue with residents, businesses, police and visitors to Purcellville about policing; identify public safety issues in the city and recommend solutions to city council to those issues – solutions committee members will develop in collaboration with community leaders, community organizations and stakeholders, including city police; and identify examples of excellent police services in the city to publicly recognize officers.

Although all members of the board seem to be in favor of the creation of the committee, their reasoning was different.

Fraser and Deputy Mayor Mary Jane Williams at the September 8 council meeting said the town’s black community did not trust the police.

“There is aperceived distrust of the police, ”Fraser said at the meeting.

City councilor Stanley Milan said the committee would be a preventative measure to control the city’s police force, although there might not be any problems in its ranks at the moment.

Meanwhile, City Councilor Tip Stinnette said the group will unite and create partnerships, not divide the community.

Powers of the committee

It is proposed that the committee have the authority to compile and present to council and police information on community recommendations regarding procedures, programs, policies, training, use of technology and effectiveness of the police force; provide residents with information about the police service; make recommendations on how complaints from officers are handled and how complaints of bias and cases of lethal force are investigated; and to make recommendations on city policies that “would prevent police bias and the use of unnecessary lethal force,” among other powers.

Members would have a duty to “present all information regardless of their personal beliefs or concern for personal, professional or political consequences”.

It is also proposed that the committee have the power to “examine important community policing issues in Purcellville,” a power some residents have declared unnecessary, as they feel the city police force has no problem.

To bolster that idea, Police Chief Cynthia McAlister told council members on September 8 that only 21 resident complaints had been filed against her officers since June 2015. Considering the city’s population of nearly 10,200 residents. , this is about one complaint for every 485 inhabitants spread over the past five years. McAlister noted that none of these complaints resulted in the termination of an agent.

But Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church pastor Dave Milam reported on Tuesday that city police shot a teenager more than six years ago.when an officer responded to a suicide call and ended up shooting Christian Alberto Sierra, 17, fatally.

Milam thanked Williams for her comments at the September 8 meeting, in which she spoke of her son who “sometimes [has] been harassed in our community, whether at school or sometimes by the police.

“It is a difficult situation,” he said. “We have the opportunity to address an issue that has been part of our country for a long time and that is part of our community in many ways. … It’s part of our police service.

Composition of the committee

It is proposed that the committee be composed of nine voting members, all of whom would be appointed by the city council, which should appoint the members “in a manner that achieves a diversity of views, race, origin. ethnicity and experience with law enforcement. “

Two seats would be reserved for people who own or manage a business in town; one seat would be reserved for a student from Loudoun Valley High School and another for a student from Woodgrove High School; two additional seats would be reserved for “persons who identify as people of color”; one seat would be filled by a person with at least five years of criminal justice experience; a seat would be filled by a person with five or more years of experience in social work or mental health; and another seat would be filled “regardless of particular experience”.

All members must be 16 years of age or older.

Councilor Joel Grewe said he heard from residents worrying that nine members could be too many and could slow the committee in its ability to conduct its business effectively. City attorney Sally Hankins said nine members could be a good number as there would be a better chance of a quorum being established if a few members were unable to attend a meeting .

A single committee or one and the same?

A debate on whether the committee would have different responsibilities from those of the city’s other eight committees, commissions and councils ensued at Tuesday’s meeting.

Charlene Lane, a 1970 graduate of the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy, argued that the committee would be totally different from others, as it could present police with fatal consequences if they stop in a potentially fatal situation to decide whether their actions would be justified. Nowadays.

“This committee will take into consideration someone’s livelihood,” she said. “This is a whole different kind of committee that you are proposing. “

Magoffin said there was no need to “dramatize” the formation of the committee. She said the committee would be like other committees in town, which she said affect all people’s livelihoods. She said the committee is needed because taxpayers pay for public safety provided by the city police department.

Ogelman also said the committee would act like the city’s other eight committees, commissions and councils, as an advisory body.

But Hankins stressed that the committee would, in fact, be different from other city committees because of the moderate to high risk of legal liability it would pose. She gave the example of a resident reporting a fallen tree to a member of the Tree and Environment Sustainability Committee, which could be resolved by simply chopping down the tree before it was falls on a street or public sidewalk.

Conversely, if a resident reports to a member of the Police Advisory Committee that a police officer has done something illegal and that committee member has not informed Hankins or General Manager David Mekarski of the complaint , the resident could then claim that he reported the agent’s actions to the city. and pretend nothing was done.

“There has to be a process by which information, when collected from people about our employees, is passed on to the very people who can do something,” Hankins said. “It would be a very costly problem for the city legally, I promise.”

“Once knowledge is obtained by anyone with a city logo on anything, we are all responsible for knowing it. I cannot stress this enough. We are all responsible for knowing that, ”she said.

Hankins stressed that complaints against police officers are administrative and personal matters that should be submitted directly to her and Mekarski, and are not legislative issues to be dealt with by the city council.

“Labor law is probably the most important risk area in this city,” she said.

In recent years, the town has experienced labor law troubles. A 2017 investigation, which was later found to be unfounded, of the police chief led to the administrative leave of several city staff while several other investigations were carried out. This has led to several prosecutions of some of these staff members., who claimed that they had been improperly placed on leave and that their reputation had been tarnished.

Read the full proposed order to create the Purcellville Community Policing Advisory Committee here.

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About Wesley V. Finley

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