Prince William’s Board of County Supervisors has directed county staff to begin studying the creation of a civilian review board, a municipal body that could be empowered to investigate the county’s police department over claims of abuse and misconduct – and possibly mete out punishment for officers who break the rules.
The board voted 7-1 Tuesday, Dec. 15, to move the proposal forward, with only Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, voting against it.
The initiative was spearheaded by Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, and it has received the backing of the county’s NAACP chapter who say a civilian review board will improve relations between the community and the police department and provide increased oversight of police.
“I do believe we should have a civilian review board. That’s where I want us to go,” Boddye said.
The directive does not immediately create a civilian review board but directs staff to research and explore options for what kind of authority would be granted to the board and how appointments would be made. Boddye said the process will involve ample input from community groups, criminal justice stakeholders and the police department before the proposal comes back to the board for discussion.
“I hope that at the end of this process we’ll be given a whole host of different levels of authority for this civilian review board that we can then discuss as a board and as a community,” Boddye said.
The impetus behind the proposal is a new law approved by the Virginia General Assembly this fall that allows city councils and county boards of supervisors in Virginia to create civilian review boards beginning next July 1. It was one of numerous police reforms Virginia lawmakers passed in response to nationwide protests over the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The law allows localities to set up local civilian review boards that could have a wide range of authority over local police departments, including the power to conduct investigations of citizen complaints, incidents involving the use-of-force and the review of internal police investigations. But it is up to the local governing body to determine what authority the board will have.
Prince William County acting Police Chief Jarad Phelps said Tuesday that it is too early to say whether he would support a civilian review board. But he noted that the police department would have a seat at the table as the county moves forward with studying the proposal.
“We’ve got a long road ahead of us to get there,” Phelps said. “... We just need to craft what’s right for the community.”
Phelps added that several jurisdictions – Fairfax, Virginia Beach and Charlottesville – have already created civilian review boards, and that the police department has begun reaching out to those localities to see how the boards were set up.
“It’s not a new concept in Virginia. But we have been reaching out and learning how they do things so that we are prepared for the discussion,” Phelps said.
The Fairfax Board of County Supervisors created a nine-member “Police Civilian Review Panel” in 2017 after a nearly two-year process. The panel has the authority to review certain police investigations “to ensure the thoroughness, completeness, accuracy, objectivity, and impartiality of the investigations.”
The board may also make recommendations on law enforcement policies, practices, and procedures to assist the Fairfax County chief of police and board of supervisors in policy review.
A 2018 U.S. Department of Justice report on civilian oversight of police in major U.S. cities drew no concrete conclusions about the effectiveness of civilian oversight initiatives because policies vary so greatly among the locales that have them. But the report underscored the need for discussions of police accountability to continue.
“There is little doubt that conversations about police accountability need to continue and should be a high priority,” the report said.
Republican supervisors expressed skepticism about a possible civilian review board. Lawson said she wanted to know what authority the civilian review board would be granted in Prince William County and the criteria for serving on the board before signing off on it. Lawson added that the supervisors need to set “parameters in place” before opening the discussion to the public.
“What do you have in mind? Because that’s really going to determine whether I support this moving forward or not,” Lawson said.
Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Yesli Vega, R-Coles, voted along with the Democratic supervisors to allow county staff to start researching the proposal, but expressed reservations about the idea. Vega said the directive “was a great starting point.” But she asked that the county ensure that all interested parties could weigh in on the proposal.
“If we’re really trying to improve things here in our county, which, again, we can talk all day about what a great department we have, but I think that it’s okay to look at things to see how we can serve our community better,” Vega said.
The initiative to begin looking at a civilian review board comes less than a week after the fatal police shooting of a 79-year-old Dumfries man on Thursday, Dec. 10. Prince William County police officers shot and killed Kurtis Kay Frevert, 79, outside his home in the Four Seasons community after a family member reported that Frevert was armed and making concerning statements.
It was the third police shooting in Prince William County in four years, and the second fatal police shooting to occur during that time.
The five officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid leave pending the outcome investigations into the incident by the Prince William Police Department and the Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org
Original story: Supervisor proposes civilian review board for county police after fatal police shooting
Following last week’s fatal police shooting of a 79-year-old Dumfries man, Supervisor Kenny Boddye has announced his intention to create a civilian review board that would have the authority to investigate police use-of-force incidents and to take disciplinary action against police officers who break the rules.
The announcement comes just days after Prince William County police officers shot and killed Kurtis Kay Frevert, 79, outside his home in the Four Seasons community, outside Dumfries, on Thursday, Dec. 10. Police were called after a family member reported that Frevert was armed and making concerning statements. Five officers discharged their weapons during the incident.
All five have since been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of investigations being conducted by both the Prince William County Police Department and the Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney's office. The officers have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The most recent police shooting was the third in Prince William County in four years, and the second fatal police shooting to occur during that time.
Boddye, D-Occoquan, said in a press release on Monday that creating “a civilian review board will both increase accountability and foster additional trust between the Prince William County Police Department and the community it serves.”
Civilian review boards are citizen-led, municipal bodies with the power to conduct investigations of citizen complaints, police misconduct and abuse, and to review internal police investigations.
A new law passed by the Virginia General Assembly allows city councils and county boards of supervisors to create civilian review boards starting July 1. The measure was one of numerous police reforms Virginia lawmakers passed in response to nationwide protests over the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The county currently has a “citizen's advisory board” created in 2017 by former-Police Chief Barry Barnard. It includes several dozen community members and organizations who serve in an advisory role to the police department but does not have the oversight authority of a civilian review board.
Boddye said Monday he planned to introduce a directive to county staff at today’s board of county supervisors’ meeting to begin drafting a proposal to create a civilian review board. The directive could be called to a vote if any supervisors object to the idea. The board’s Republican supervisors did not immediately return emails requesting comment Tuesday morning.
Boddye said his plans to create such a panel in Prince William County predates Thursday’s shooting in Dumfries, but he said that the incident “only heightens the need” for more trust and transparency between the community and local law enforcement.
Washington D.C. news outlet DCist reported Monday that 40% of people arrested in Prince William County in 2019 were African American, according to the county police department. African Americans make up just 22% of the overall population of the county.
“Long before George Floyd, long before this incident in Dumfries, a lot of folks that have wanted to have a good way of building trust between law enforcement and the community at-large. And I think this is a really, really great way to do it,” Boddye said.
Boddye said he spent the last few weeks discussing the idea of a civilian review board with community leaders, law enforcement and fellow supervisors and said “their insight and recommendations will be incorporated” into the directive. He said ensuring that community leaders, criminal justice stakeholders and police have a seat at the table as the county moves forward with the process would be critical.
Prince William County NAACP President Cozy Bailey said Tuesday morning that the local NAACP is backing the move to create a civilian review board in the county.
“We think that we should have a civilian review board here that has the full authority that the legislation allows,” Bailey said. “We have what I consider to be a very good working relationship with our police department now and our intent always is to make something good even better. We think that the oversight responsibilities that are delineated in that legislature would help us to do that.”
Bailey, who serves on the county’s citizen’s advisory board, said that a review board “with teeth” would help to increase trust between the community and local law enforcement “because it provides independent oversight over the police department.”
Bailey noted that the “police department has fairly good relationships with the community at large.” But said that “as the community demographics have changed, there has been some distrust that have come up for a variety of reasons.”
“I believe that if we move to a civilian review board in this county with teeth, it will better serve the police department that will better serve the community, and Prince William County will continue to move forward in a very positive way,” Bailey said.