Arlington debates how powerful a civilian police review board should be

Arlington County, Virginia, may soon have a civilian police review board, but there are questions in the community about how powerful the board should be.

Under a proposal from Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz, the board would be able to review police investigations that have already been completed, but would not have the power to launch its own investigations or discipline officers.

The board would have seven voting members who are civilians and two nonvoting members with law enforcement backgrounds.

“I think we need the type of review board that reflects our values and our experience here in Arlington,” Schwartz said. “What’s the best fit for Arlington? Reasonable people are going to differ as to the right answer.”

The Arlington branch of the NAACP has criticized the proposal, saying it’s too limited.

“All Arlington residents want to be safe and to make sure we use the best police practices available to keep everyone in our community safe,” said Matt de Ferranti, who chairs the Arlington County Board.

The public will get a chance to weigh in during a public hearing set for July 17.

“As we discuss and debate this ordinance over the next two months, we must both recognize that our community has an interest in additional accountability and transparency related to law enforcement and respect the diligent efforts of our public safety personnel,” de Ferranti said.

Schwartz’s proposal goes against key recommendations given to him by a 15-member committee, including that the board should have independent investigatory and disciplinary power.

“There are some authorities, as I would acknowledge, that I have not adopted that were recommended by the police practices group,” Schwartz said.

The idea of having civilians oversee and review elements of law enforcement has picked up steam since social justice rallies swept the nation last year.

In neighboring Alexandria, the city council voted last month to create a civilian police review board that will be able to receive complaints from the community, review the police department’s investigations of incidents and complaints and conduct its own investigations.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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