(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s first veto could mean Arlington’s police oversight board cannot be led by an independent policing auditor.
Today (Tuesday), the Republican governor vetoed his first bill: HB 670, put forward by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D). It would have granted the Arlington County Board permission to appoint an independent auditor who would oversee the Community Oversight Board (COB), which is tasked with handling civilian complaints of misconduct by Arlington police officers.
Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow this morning that the Board wants to work with Youngkin to clarify the powers of the county’s police oversight board and the role of the auditor in hopes that he will rescind the veto.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee decried the veto as “play[ing] politics with a commonsense measure that passed the GOP controlled House.”
Despite passing with bipartisan support Governor Youngkin vetoed a bill from @HopeforVirginia that would have allowed an independent police auditor in Arlington
There is no reason to play politics with a commonsense measure that passed the GOP controlled House https://t.co/9TSNf4Tlpr
— Arlington Democrats (@arlingtondems) March 1, 2022
The policing auditor would have been a County Board-appointed position and the person filling the role would have answered directly to the Board. Most other top managerial positions report to the Board-appointed County Manager.
Should Youngkin’s veto remain in place, Cristol says the COB would still be led by an auditor, but this leader would instead answer to County Manager Mark Schwartz. That would mean a weaker auditor, she adds.
“It was really important that the independent policing auditor be just that, and not be under the chief law enforcement official of the county, which is the County Manager,” Cristol said.
Cristol says the Board wants to work with Youngkin because it seems — by his press release — that he misunderstands what the COB can and cannot do. She said the governor may have vetoed the bill based on a faulty understanding of the new body’s powers.
“Based on his press release, I think he made this action without full knowledge of what he was vetoing,” she said. “Specifically, he says, in referencing his vetoing of the bill, the Community Oversight Board would ‘make binding disciplinary determinations, including termination and involuntary restitution.’ Our ordinance didn’t empower the COB or the independent auditor to do that.”
Hope’s bill was merely an “administrative fix” to a bill passed last year, she said.
“Assuming this does stand, we are incredibly disappointed,” she said. “It’s not an expansion of [the] Community Oversight Board in the Commonwealth. It puts Arlington into parity with other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.”
Del. Hope explains that his bill corrects for a shortcoming in the county charter that requires the County Board to get permission from the General Assembly to make any hire. He says Youngkin’s response is a new one.
“In my 13 years of service, I don’t ever recall seeing a Governor vetoing a local Charter bill,” he said. “To say that I’m disappointed the Governor would use his veto pen on a Charter bill to make a misguided political statement is an understatement.”
The County Board and the community have a small mountain of applications to Arlington’s new police oversight board to sift through.
Between October and December of last year, more than 100 people applied to sit on the county’s Community Oversight Board, according to Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey.
The County Board created the group last summer to receive complaints of police misconduct. Following the recommendations of the Police Practices Group — convened after 2020’s summer of nationwide racial justice protests — the Board endowed the COB with the power to subpoena for evidence or witnesses if the police department withholds them.
Now, the County Board and a panel of community members have the monumental task of winnowing down the 100 applicants to nine candidates — seven voting and two non-voting members — by mid-March.
“On behalf of all of us, I think we can say thank you, thank you for the tremendous outpouring of interest and support for this initiative in Arlington,” said Dorsey, who is a liaison to the COB along with Board member Matt de Ferranti.
A multi-step interview process is now underway, says Dorsey.
Candidates have been invited to participate in video interviews so they can be screened before they go before a panel, which will largely be composed of people who were engaged in the creation of the COB last year.
This panel will choose who will interview with the County Board.
Dorsey says the goal is to fully impanel the COB by the County Board’s March meeting.
“We are very, very thrilled that this is going to move forward,” he said. “We really thank so many Arlingtonians who are interested in transparency and accountability in law enforcement and working to build trust with our police department and community.”
Dorsey noted that he was pleased the applicant pool reflects Arlington’s diversity.
“This was very much a standard by which we want to establish our Community Oversight Board, and at least from the screening of the applicants thus far, we will absolutely be able to meet that important mandate,” he said.
The COB would be lead by an independent auditor-monitor who can conduct investigations concurrent with internal police department investigations. This position, however, is subject to approval by state legislature, possibly during the 2022 legislative session.
Fundraiser for Former Restaurant Employee — “My name is Dante. I’m the general manager at the Green Pig Bistro in Arlington. Recently we had a tragedy in our green pig family. One of our former employees, Myra died in child birth. Her husband, Rolando, is also a former employee. We are… [raising] money to help this single father out.” [GoFundMe]
First for Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — “A historic first happened at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Friday. The Tomb at Arlington National Cemetery has been guarded continuously for the past 84 years… On October 1, for the first time ever, there was an all-woman shift change.” [WUSA 9]
Designers Weigh in on New County Logo — “I think if you think of it as a logo, it has some pretty obvious shortcomings in that it doesn’t say much about Arlington except as part of the larger region. It’s more of a reasonable mark for the DMV than it is for Arlington itself. It would be nice if they could’ve had something about Arlington to feature there. On the other hand, Arlington being part of the DMV might be what’s most interesting about it.” [Washingtonian]
Rent Keeps Rising in Arlington — “Median apartment-rental rates across Arlington continue their post-COVID rebound and are the highest in the Washington region, but the rate of growth over the past month was slightly below the national average. With a median cost of $2,061 for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,495 for a two-bedroom unit, the median price for Arlington rentals over the preceding month was up 1.9 percent.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Jobless Rate Dropping — “Arlington’s jobless rate in August dropped to 3 percent, according to new data, as the county and region continue to wriggle free of the economic grip of COVID… The August data… showed 145,095 Arlington residents employed in the civilian workforce and 4,549 looking for jobs. The resulting 3-percent rate was down from 3.4 percent in July, and a healthy drop from the 5.2-percent rate recorded in August 2020.” [Sun Gazette]
Seeking Police Oversight Board Members — “The Arlington County Board is now seeking applications from residents interested in serving as part of the County’s new Community Oversight Board (COB) that will have independent oversight and help to increase transparency and collaboration with the Arlington County Police Department. This volunteer COB will work directly with an accompanying Independent Policing Auditor, who will be hired at a later date.” [Arlington County]
Local candidates offered differing takes on police oversight and demographic disparities in public schools during a candidate forum last night.
The Arlington branch of the NAACP hosted Monday’s forum, featuring the four Arlington County Board candidates — incumbent and Democrat Takis Karantonis and independents Mike Cantwell, Audrey Clement and Adam Theo — as well as School Board candidates Mary Kadera and former Congressional candidate Major Mike Webb.
More than 100 people were in virtual attendance.
The forum addressed two dozen issues facing the county and its communities of color. County Board topics ranged from support for minority-owned businesses to accountability for developers that neighbors say violate construction terms. Schools topics spanned the unequal distribution of Parent-Teacher Association resources to improving outcomes for students of color.
But the sharpest distinctions among County Board candidates came out during a discussion of the powers endowed to the new police oversight board.
This summer, the Arlington County Board established a Community Oversight Board (COB) with subpoena power and authorized the hiring of an Independent Policing Auditor able to investigate community complaints about police officers. The decision, came amid sharp disagreements over whether board had too much, or too little, authority.
“The overall perception from many of the members, [and] people I know who are not NAACP members… is that the board is aligned with interests that are not the ones that the community is telling you we want,” said moderator Wilma Jones Kilgo.
When asked if the COB aligns with their visions, only Karantonis said it did.
“It aligned mostly with [my] vision,” Karantonis said. “We now have to nominate the board, make it work, fund it and staff it.”
Cantwell said the board shouldn’t have subpoena power or investigatory power.
“Elections are where you should hold people accountable,” he said. “You should hold the current County Board, who appoints the County Manager and the police chief, accountable, and vote them out.”
But Theo and Clement said the Community Oversight Board isn’t independent enough.
“I’m glad we got the subpoena power, but it fails utterly with not being able to properly investigate and not being able to follow through with discipline,” Theo said. “It needs to be independent. Right now, it’s still under the County Manager, that isn’t enough.”
Clement, who supports giving the board subpoena power, nonetheless called it “a toothless tiger.”
“In situations where the oversight board exercises concurrent jurisdiction with the police department in a personnel matter, I believe COB should have binding authority, as the likelihood of the police chief honoring a recommendation of the COB that goes against his own decision is nil,” she said.
She also expressed concern that the County Manager, who hires the police chief, also hires the independent auditor.
Later, Karantonis said the County Board has put some pressure on the state to change the law that gives Arlington the power to hire a police auditor.
“It is a flaw that the County Manager formally chooses this person,” he said. “We have asked the General Assembly to change that and fix other flaws in this [provision].”
Meanwhile, Jones pressed Clement and Theo on other issues they raised related to policing and the criminal justice system.
And Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey, who sits on the regional board, was one of the leaders who flipped his vote from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes.’
Dorsey appeared on WAMU’s The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi on Friday to talk about why he flipped his vote. Dorsey also explained the powers and limitations of the newly created Community Oversight Board, which provides oversight over the conduct of officers in the Arlington County Police Department.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature project would add two high-occupancy toll lanes in each direction to part of its Beltway and lower I-270. The toll system would connect with Northern Virginia’s toll lanes on I-495 and 395.
Supporters say the project will relieve intense bottleneck, but in June, Dorsey said it was “not ready for prime time,” according to the show. In the interim month, the project was revised and Hogan’s team reportedly spent significant time lobbying those who voted ‘no.’ The board voted 28-10 in favor of the project.
Dorsey said his vote hinged on funding for public transit, as lower congestion could encourage more single-occupancy vehicle traffic. He denied being contacted by Hogan’s office, but said he was contacted by “targeted campaigns.”
“What was missing was a commitment to provide the funding to make sure locally-developed transit solutions could be developed, and could be constructed and operated in the long term,” he said.
The project now includes state funding to design bus lanes for the expanded highway, in addition to $300 million in private funding for transit projects. Dorsey said the revised project also outlines timelines and efforts for transit projects, he said.
“There was significant progress — at least enough progress for me to move it along in the regional planning process,” Dorsey said.
The Maryland Board of Public Works is set to vote on the project later this summer, according to the show.
Dorsey also clarified the roles of the Community Oversight Board, which has investigative and subpoena power. The board will have an independent policing auditor who can conduct an investigation alongside one being conducted internally by ACPD.
“If for some reason in that concurrent [model], which we think is artfully designed, records are withheld, it has ability to get them via subpoena,” he said. “We hope it’s rarely used, as that means the concurrent model not working.”
(The Arlington branch of the NAACP has criticized the County Board for not granting the oversight board the full powers recently granted by the state legislature.)
Since County Manager Mark Schwartz hires staff, including police officers, a Community Oversight Board with county staff would not be effectively independent, Dorsey said. The solution was to create an independent policing auditor who is accountable to the oversight board and who ensures investigations take place.
The Board voted against a provision setting aside three seats on the oversight board for people of color or people from marginalized groups.
“This is not about saying there shouldn’t be three people of color on the board, but that we shouldn’t send a signal that three is somehow an acceptable minimum,” Dorsey said. “Most [members] should be people of color, from my perspective.”
Dorsey said he does not deny that ACPD has had occasional issues worthy of scrutiny, but “overall, we’ve had a professional and effective and trustworthy police department.”
Arlington County will now have a Community Oversight Board and Independent Policing Auditor able to investigate community complaints about police officers.
During a four hour meeting last night (Wednesday), 24 leaders and community members spoke, ranging from Arlington NAACP leadership to police officers. The County Board overcame some disagreements to unanimously approve a new board that takes complaints and has an independent auditor to conduct investigations concurrent with internal police department investigations.
If necessary, the board can subpoena for evidence or witnesses if the department withholds them.
These were powers recommended by the Police Practices Work Group, convened one year ago after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in part to imagine what a review board could look like. And proponents said that subpoena power — the most hotly contested authority last night — is the sole key to a fully independent board.
“The subpoena power is integral to the independence of the Community Oversight Board,” County Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol said. “Otherwise, the community oversight is just another step in the ACPD chain of command.”
On Twitter, she further explained the actions taken last night.
The PPG recommended empowering a Community Oversight Board & designating a professional auditor to investigate on their behalf, concurrently w/ but independent of ACPD's internal investigations. We adopted their model! Incl. subpoena power, to ensure a strong & independent COB.
— Katie Cristol (@kcristol) July 22, 2021
Above all: We adopt this strong COB proactively. No accident that Arlington hasn't had misconduct headlines: Officers' own zero tolerance for misconduct is the bedrock of our trustworthy PD. The COB brings community into this high standard of accountability & adds transparency.
— Katie Cristol (@kcristol) July 22, 2021
Board Member Libby Garvey, who ultimately voted in favor of the ordinance, did express some reservations with the power.
“Right now, the County Board has the right to subpoena… It’s one of our jobs,” she said. “I feel it’s unfair to put that on resident volunteers, as well-trained and well-meaning as they might be.”
Steve Yanda, the treasurer of Arlington Coalition of Police, said the group supports a review board but not the subpoena power, given how closely ACPD officers watch themselves.
The last three years of investigations by ACPD’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) led to 639 suspension hours and to 11 officers leaving the department, he said. ACPD-originated complaints led to 53% of the suspension hours and 45% of the officer departures.
“It flies in face of logic to believe that a department that scrutinizes itself to the degree that the ACPD does, needs to also be monitored under threat of subpoena power by the community it serves,” he said.
And that OPR investigative process can be “mentally and physically exhausting and nerve-wracking,” said officer Tracey Bates.
“Adding on any additional pressures to an already thorough, exhausting process will lead to more highly qualified officers leaving the department, and with that comes the decline in officers, a decline in quality of services, and a decline in community engagement,” he said.
NAACP President Julius “J.D.” Spain said the board cannot privilege the voices of a few worried about police morale over the voices of community members advocating for a powerful, independent board, as recommended by the Police Practices Workgroup.
“The time has come in this country, in this Commonwealth, to stop rearranging furniture and start rebuilding the house, with transparency and accountability,” he said.
In a letter to the County Board earlier this year, public defender Brad Haywood said the PPG’s recommendations “give that oversight body the power it needs to solve the problems it identifies; to obtain the information, to conduct thorough investigations, and to make recommendations not just for how individual officers can do better, but how the Department and the County more broadly can do better.”
Even with these broad authorities, County Board members said the work is just beginning.
“We have to set in place an opportunity here for the community to figure out if our police department is to be trusted, if they don’t believe so already, and vice versa: for the police department to trust that the oversight being instituted today is designed not to get them, but to improve our overall approach to policing,” said Christian Dorsey.
Crash Prompts Hazmat Cleanup — From the Arlington County Fire Department last night: “N Glebe Rd closed in both directions between Arlington Bl and N Pershing due to a fuel leak following a motor vehicle crash. #Avoid the area.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Metrobus Crash in Ballston — From our Twitter account yesterday afternoon: “Southbound N. Glebe Road is blocked at Washington Blvd by a crash involving a car and a Metrobus. Police and medics on scene.” [Twitter]
Police Oversight Vote to Be Held Wednesday — The County Board vote on creating a Law Enforcement Civilian Review Board will be taken during a special carryover meeting on Wednesday. [Arlington County]
Activists Decry Possible Route 29 Development — “An activist group raised the alarm about what it suggests could be a major upzoning along the Route 29 corridor. Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future… said efforts to impose ‘major increases in density’ along the 5-mile Lee Highway corridor were resulting in ‘stiff opposition’ from residents. The group encouraged those with concerns about the proposals for more intense zoning to get in touch with County Board members sooner rather than later.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Firefighter Honored — “2021 Northern VA EMS Council Regional Award winner for Outstanding Prehospital Educator is EMS Education Specialist, FF Clare Sabio, Arlington Co Fire Dept.” [Twitter]
Local Private School Gets Accredited — “The Sycamore School in Arlington has earned accreditation by Cognia, a nonprofit organization that provides quality assurance for schools, school districts and education-service providers.” [Sun Gazette, Press Release]
Western Wildfires Make for Hazy Sunset — “The haze that hung high above us on Monday has been identified as smoke from Western wildfires, in what seemed a vivid visual reminder that faraway hardship may not leave us unaffected. ‘A thick layer of smoke’ at upper atmospheric levels ‘can be seen in the sky at this time,’ meteorologists in the local office of the National Weather Service said Monday night.” [Washington Post]
Photo courtesy Tom Mockler/Twitter
Progress on Revamped VRE Station — “It could just be just a matter of months until the Virginia Railway Express plan to create a new station in Crystal City reaches another milestone. VRE officials project it will be in the third quarter of 2021 that preliminary engineering and environmental-impact steps toward eventual construction will be completed.” [Sun Gazette]
Amazon Sponsoring Arlington Youth Soccer — “Kids in Arlington’s travel soccer programs will play with the Amazon logo on the backs of their jerseys this fall thanks to a sponsorship between the retailing giant and the Arlington Soccer Association.” [Washingtonian]
Board Mulls Police Oversight — “Throughout June and July, the Board will consider different models of a Civilian Review Board with the goal of creating a CRB and Independent Policing Auditor function that can enhance community trust in and collaboration with the Arlington County Police Department… In the coming weeks, the County Board will be studying these models, as well as others from around the Commonwealth and country, and encourages community members to provide their feedback and perspectives on the different models.” [Arlington County]
Storms Expected Today — “Strong to severe thunderstorms are possible Thursday afternoon and evening across the DMV, with strong to locally damaging winds being the main threat. The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has the region at a Level 2 out of 5 slight risk for severe weather.” [Washington Post, Twitter]
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz aims to have a new police chief in place within the next month or two.
And this police chief, he said during a meeting last week, must appreciate Arlington’s diversity and understand how different communities react to police presence.
“Our police officers meet with residents, visitors and those who work here during the most stressful moments of their lives,” he said. “I’m looking for a chief who understands our community gains strength from its diversity.”
The police department has been without a permanent leader since September, when the former police chief M. Jay Farr retired, citing souring relations with the County Board as one of his reasons for leaving. Acting chief Andy Penn is leading in his place.
Meantime, Schwartz has been conducting a nationwide search while a consultant, Leroy Thompson, gathered input from police officers and community members.
The consultant found that police officers want a chief who will boost morale, support officers, regain their trust and help improve race relations, Thompson said. They are wary of the county overreacting to a national narrative that “wasn’t severe in Arlington,” he said.
The community, meanwhile, wants a chief who will build relationships in the community and with other county departments to address peoples’ needs, Thompson said. They envision an approach to law enforcement that focuses on connecting people with needed services, instead of the current strategy centered on punishment, which they say is a holdover from the war on drugs, he said.
One area of agreement? Thompson said the community and police officers stressed the new hire should not seem like a political appointment.
Amid a national dialogue on race and policing, Arlington has taken several steps to respond to calls for police reform, including recently budgeting for full time police auditor/monitor position and a civilian mental health crisis response team.
Schwartz said a consultant is also reviewing ACPD’s policies guiding use of force, body-worn cameras, and the collection of data, as well as how successful the department is at recruiting and retaining officers. The report was set to come last fall but has yet to arrive, he said.
This past winter, the county implemented a body-worn camera program, and in January, Penn signed onto the Northern Virginia Regional Critical Incident Response Team, which allows for an independent investigation into serious uses of police force.
In February, a “Police Practices Group” convened last summer presented myriad ways to change how the police respond to behavioral health crises and enforce traffic violations. Schwartz said he expects the new chief to carry out these recommendations.
“It’s my firm expectation — I have made it clear to anyone who has interviewed for the position — that they will follow all the recommendations I support from the PPG and he/she is free to challenge me on those I didn’t recommend,” Schwartz said. “I expect whoever the next police chief is will be walking around with a tired, tattered copy of this document in his or her front pocket.”
A press release from Farr’s retirement timed the hiring to come after the PPG wrapped up its work. One of its recommendations is the creation of a civilian review board.
The work group has rolled out a community feedback form that allows Arlington residents to weigh in on topics like use of force, police training, body cameras, mental health, traffic enforcement and a potential civilian review board.
“The PPG is seeking insights and comments from community members to inform the their work plan moving forward,” said a county spokeswoman.
The Police Practices Group is tackling four broad policy considerations:
- Police civilian review board – what type and approach?
- The role of the police department in providing mental health services;
- The role for the police department in traffic enforcement; and
- The opportunity for alternative dispute resolution, including restorative justice & mediation.
The group started meeting last month and is set to wrap up its work by Dec. 30. It will present its recommendations to County Manager Mark Schwartz, who in turn will make recommendations for potential changes to the County Board.
Arlington County’s new police practices review board answered questions from the public about its goals and methods in a virtual meeting Monday.
The board, announced in July by County Manager Mark Schwartz, used the meeting to elaborate on how it would “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community” through its review.
Questions were directed at representatives of the review board’s two parts: an external assessment of ACPD by a hired firm, and a 16 person Police Practices Group (PPG) with four subcommittees.
When asked how Hillard Heintze will conduct its review, Thompson said it will first comb through ACPD data to compile a quantitative report on policies and practices like use of force. The firm will then create a qualitative report based on a climate survey and interviews with police officers and community members who have relevant lived experience.
Thompson said the firm will compare its findings to what are considered best practices for community policing, a standard set by the U.S. Department of Justice and policing accreditation groups like CALEA.
She added that reviews like this are typically asked for by police departments dealing with a publicized incident or failure, but she does not think similar pressure compelled Arlington.
“This is a progressive move by a department to actually have someone coming in and look at their practices,” Thompson said. “They have no idea what our outcomes are going to be, so that’s a very bold step that they took to have someone come in to look at their work.”
The remainder of the community’s questions were about the PPG, whose members are largely Arlington-based. The group consists of four subcommittees, with each looking at an ACPD policy area.
“Our end goal is to be able to take the assessment work that [Thompson] and her team are doing and combine it with community engagement work that the PPG group is doing, to present a set of recommendations to the County Manager by the middle of December,” Julie Shedd, the associate dean at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution and the PPG’s expert consultant, said.
Each subcommittee chair spoke in the meeting about what their intentions are and methods of analysis will be.