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Task force creating review board for Richmond police holds first in-person town hall Tuesday
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Task force creating review board for Richmond police holds first in-person town hall Tuesday

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The nine-member group creating an oversight board for the Richmond Police Department will hold its first in-person town hall Tuesday evening at Diversity Richmond.

The event begins at 6 p.m. at 1407 Sherwood Ave. It is free to the public, from whom the task force wants input that will help inform who should serve on the eventual board and what powers it should have.

The task force will make recommendations to City Council based on the feedback it gets from stakeholders, including the community and the police, and research into other oversight boards across the country.

Members of the task force spent most of the first two-hour town hall, which was held virtually in April, fielding questions from attendees about the very issues they want feedback on: What kind of complaints or alleged officer conduct should be investigated? How is a complaint filed and what happens next? If wrongdoing is discovered, should the board have the ability to fire officers, or even the police chief, or just make a recommendation for disciplinary action?

This week, Police Chief Gerald M. Smith, or a member of his staff, is expected to present at the task force’s meeting. One of several topics the group asked him to prepare is how the internal affairs and complaint processes work currently. That meeting is held virtually via Zoom at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday, and is also open to the public.

Initially, task force members said they had trouble reaching Smith, but after calling him out publicly on Twitter, he and several members of the Richmond Coalition of Police, the patrol officers’ association, have attended the last two task force meetings.

Though Smith came into his job supportive of a civilian review board with the power to subpoena testimony from officers and members of the public, he appeared skeptical during the first meeting he attended when the conversation turned to a discussion about whether the CRB should have the power to fire officers.

“If [officers] are listening to this conversation, I know tomorrow I will be fielding a lot of concerns from a lot of officers out there that they’re not hearing a collaborative effort being developed but a confrontational effort,” Smith said then. “I just know tomorrow my officers will be asking questions. They were already nervous about the process.”

Last Wednesday, members of the task force told Smith it’s OK if officers are nervous, and even if they do not support a CRB, but that the task force wants to hear from officers about their concerns in order to address them.

“There may or may not be officers who support it,” task force co-chair Eli Coston said.

“And that’s fine. We just need to have that dialogue,” added the other co-chair, Angela Fontaine. “If they do have questions, we want this to be something where they’re able to understand where we’re coming from, the big purpose of why we’re here. And that’s not just to take their jobs.”

Smith suggested hosting a forum, virtual or in-person, for officers and task force members to converse.

“I’m enjoying the conversation because I’m better understanding the scope of the engagement that you are looking for,” he said.

arockett@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6527

Twitter: @AliRockettRTD

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