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After extensive training, Arlington’s Community Oversight Board is ready to hear complaints about police

Independent Policing Auditor Mummi Ibrahim during an Arlington County Board meeting on Tuesday, April 25 (via Arlington County)

Arlington County’s Community Oversight Board and Independent Policing Auditor can now, officially, begin investigating community complaints about police officers.

The incremental step took place on Tuesday after the Arlington County Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the oversight board, or COB, and the Arlington County Police Department.

Now, it will begin doing community outreach so people know the oversight board exists and they can reach out if they have a complaint.

County Board members indicated reaching this point required a lot of hard work.

During the meeting, Board Member Katie Cristol thanked ACPD and the oversight board for finalizing their agreement, “which I know was not always the easiest project.”

The MOU outlines what the oversight board can do and how ACPD shares records and data. The board can review public complaints, incidents where police used force and internal investigations. It can then produce reports and make policy recommendations based on this work.

“We have a lot of work to do but what we set out in the Memorandum of Understanding and the work we’ve done so far gives us good marching orders to get started with this very important work,” Independent Policing Auditor Mummi Ibrahim said.

The milestone comes nearly two years after the Arlington County Board approved the creation of the oversight board with subpoena power — a hotly contested authority. Arlington’s Police Practices Work Group, convened after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, recommended an oversight board with this power.

This COB has seven voting members and two non-voting seats, of which one is currently vacant. Over 100 residents applied to fill a seat and inaugural members were appointed in March 2022.

“We are very, very lucky to have a cross-section of people with different personal, professional, social, family and economic backgrounds supporting us,” said COB Chair Julie Evans. “It has made for valuable dialogue amongst ourselves about how to organize for this body and how to best serve the Arlington community in the interest of the ordinance vision.”

Ibrahim was hired shortly after, though a veto from Gov. Glenn Youngkin — upheld in a party-line legislative vote — kept her from reporting directly to the County Board. That was intended to give her more independence to issue her own reports. Instead, she and the police department both report to County Manager Mark Schwartz.

When they were not hammering out the MOU, the volunteer board members were training.

Ibrahim said the Arlington oversight board is “probably the most highly trained COB in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I think it’s fair to say, in the nation.”

Collectively, members completed 450 hours of training, including eight hours of ACPD tactical training at the Northern Virginia Training Academy and nine ACPD training courses.

“That was the bulk of our time last year,” Evans said. “While it was very demanding, it was very valuable and will serve us well in sort of creating a root of this work in understanding how ACPD is set up to operate now.”

Each member participated in three, four-hour ride alongs with police officers at all points of the day, helping them build understanding with police officers, she said.

“It sounds like there has been an incredible amount of team building and relationship building with the department but also empathy for all parties and the types of circumstances that can lead to a complaint,” Cristol said.

Going forward, Evans said, training will focus on topics like mediation, juvenile justice and trauma-based policing to “diversify the perspective of lenses reflected in our formal training.”

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey stressed that the oversight group is not punishment for police but rather borne of the Board’s “desire is to have everything in Arlington reach the level of greatness and maximum benefit that it possibly can have.”

“I have every confidence in the COB and Independent Policing Auditor and the police department that, together, this can mature into something that will be the envy of other oversight regimes in the Commonwealth… and maybe in the nation as well,” he said.

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