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Monday, September 20, 2021
ArlingtonOpinionCommentary: Arlington effort on policing fell short

Commentary: Arlington effort on policing fell short

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by JULIUS “J.D.” SPAIN and KENT CARTER, For the Sun Gazette

Despite the Arlington County Board’s recent adoption of a Community Oversight Board (COB) for the police department, we are disappointed that the County Board refused to adopt the General Assembly-approved authority for the body to be truly independent and make binding disciplinary actions.

Most striking to many was how, during the County Board’s discussions, the wellness and morale of police officers under investigation outweighed the human rights of the most marginalized.

The County Board should have prioritized the concerns of communities of color that are discriminated against and have been historically victimized by improper policing. The board’s failure to do so demonstrates its disconnect with the people.

The NAACP is not anti-police, nor is our support for a robust Community Oversight Board a judgment on past disciplinary actions or investigations by the Arlington County Police Department. Instead, we seek the empowerment of the people, whom the department is obliged to protect and serve, to have a voice in how they are protected and served.

What remains problematic to us is the failure of elected leaders to embrace the moment and fully adopt authorities granted in state law, which include the following:

• “Any law-enforcement civilian-oversight body of a locality shall reflect the demographic diversity of the locality.” The County Board on a vote of 4-1 rejected an amendment that marginalized communities have a guaranteed seat on the body.

• “To receive, investigate and issue findings on complaints from civilians regarding the conduct of law-enforcement officers and civilian employees of a law-enforcement agency serving under the authority of the locality.” This is not the authority structure adopted by the County Board.

Words matter. What is truthful, factual and indisputable is that the County Board rejected community input and its own Police Practice Group’s recommendations for true independent-investigatory power and binding disciplinary actions.

Standing in between the COB and the police department is the new independent policing auditor, who will be hired and supervised by the county manager (who also oversees the police department and its chief).

In potentially the biggest failing of this ordinance, the County Board rejected the community’s request that the county manager select from a roster of candidates screened and recommended by the COB. The police auditor will have a difficult time looking at police operations from a community lens while also being selected and supervised by the police department’s command structure. It will be particularly problematic for them to be that community voice if they come from a law-enforcement background, as was telegraphed by the County Board.

Spain is branch president and Carter is first vice president and criminal-justice chair of the Arlington branch of the NAACP. This is adapted from a larger statement issued July 23.

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