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Create civilian review board

To the editor:

My name is Hakim Muhammad. I’m a member of Virginia Organizing. I’m also an African American living in Suffolk.

On Oct. 8, 2020, I saw the virtual Suffolk mayoral candidate forum. Thanks to all of those amazing organizations that put that together. Thank you all for all that you do for the community.

I listened to the candidates talk about criminal and police reform. Linda Johnson, Mike Duman and Brian Bass said if elected they would establish a civilian review board. Vanessa Harris said if elected she would be against having a civilian review board. This closed session, legislators enacted SB 5035 — Law-enforcement civilian oversight bodies.

This legislation would authorize a locality to establish a law-enforcement civilian oversight body that may (i) receive, investigate, and issue findings on complaints from civilians regarding conduct of law-enforcement officers and civilian employees; (ii) investigate and issue findings on incidents, including the use of force by a law-enforcement officer, death or serious injury to any person held in custody, serious abuse of authority or misconduct, allegedly discriminatory stops, and other incidents regarding the conduct of law-enforcement officers or civilian employees; (iii) make binding disciplinary determinations in cases that involve serious breaches of departmental and professional standards; (iv) investigate policies, practices, and procedures of law-enforcement agencies and make recommendations regarding changes to such policies, practices, and procedures; (v) review all investigations conducted internally by law-enforcement agencies and issue findings regarding the accuracy, completeness, and impartiality of such investigations and the sufficiency of any discipline resulting from such investigations; (vi) request reports of the annual expenditures of law-enforcement agencies and make budgetary recommendations; (vii) make public reports on the activities of the law-enforcement civilian oversight body; and (viii) undertake any other duties as reasonably necessary for the law-enforcement civilian oversight body to effectuate its lawful purpose to effectively oversee the law-enforcement agencies as authorized by the locality.

Such oversight bodies are not authorized to oversee sheriff’s departments. The bill provides that a law-enforcement officer who is subject to a binding disciplinary determination may file a grievance requesting a final hearing pursuant to the locality’s local grievance procedures. The bill also provides that a retired law-enforcement officer may serve on such law-enforcement civilian oversight body as an advisory, non-voting, ex officio member.

The bill has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2021, and is identical to SB 5035.

This is a movement in the right direction for the city of Suffolk and for Virginians. This review board will be made up of civilians, not law enforcement. Yes, us common folks in Suffolk. The oversight board, if applied right, could bring back public trust. Virginia Organizing Suffolk chapter is calling for change in regards to police reform and criminal reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death and other shootings of unarmed African Americans. We need more police accountability.

Mayor Duman, will you apply the right guidelines to establish an effective civilian review board for the people of Suffolk in the interest of social justice for all?

Hakim Muhammad

Suffolk