The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a “racial and social justice commission” tasked with improving race relations and examining local police, government and school policies despite objections from the board’s Republican supervisors.
The 12-member commission will consist of eight citizen members appointed by the board of supervisors in addition to the Prince William County police chief, county executive, human rights commission chair and a representative from the Prince William County school division.
The proposal for a new commission was initiated earlier this summer at the request of Supervisor Margaret Angela Franklin, D-Woodbridge, in the wake of nationwide protests over the killings of African American men and women by police. Numerous protests took place in Prince William County and Manassas during that time.
The commission is tasked with examining the county police department’s policies and practices, including its hiring practices and use-of-force protocols; how the county government delivers its services and the diversity of the workforce providing these services; and how the school system’s policies impact children of color. It will then recommend policy changes to the board of county supervisors based on its findings.
The commission will initially come at no cost to the county but may cost up to $200,000 annually to staff the commission starting in fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1.
The board voted 5-3 to create the commission with all five Democrats on the board voting in favor and the board’s three Republicans voting against it. Democrats on the board said the commission stemmed from the protests and the ensuing dialogue about race relations in county. Prince William County is the only majority-minority county in Northern Virginia.
“What we heard back in May, in June, is that there are issues that exist in the county that the community wants to address. That’s how we got here,” said at-large board Chair Ann Wheeler (D).
Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, said the commission would allow the county “to have a dialogue” and to “see and hear from our constituents” on issues of racial and social justice.
“We have a long history in this nation of folks being singled out because of their race, and that racism has evolved and mutated over the years. We are setting this up as a response to that,” Boddye said.
Republican Supervisors pushed back on the proposal. Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, said they were concerned that the commission would lead to a “fishing expedition” of the county’s police department.
“My concern is that it’s going to have a chilling effect on our police officers in Prince William County. We’re going to create this now permanent commission that is now going to have to justify itself by going on a fishing expedition with our police department,” Candland said.
Candland added that he was reluctant to move forward with the commission when “we don’t have any instances where our police department … have negatively impacted a community.”
Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, requested that the tasks given to the new commission be allocated instead to the county’s existing Human Rights Commission. Vega said she agreed that “these are conversations that we have to have,” but added that she thought the examination of county policies didn’t require its own commission.
“We’re going to use funds and put them towards a new commission when we already have something in place that can do what it is trying to accomplish,” Vega said. “I just don’t support the idea of creating something new because there is no need for it.”
The Democrats on the board pushed back on assertions that the commission would go out of its way to find wrongdoing by the county’s police department, and pointed to the board’s inclusion of the chief of police as evidence that the commission would promote dialogue between the community and the police department.
“This is not about finding what’s wrong with each of these areas and beating those entities up over the head,” Franklin said. “We’re suggesting that we look at our policies.”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org