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Consensus Forms In City Council Around Civilian Review Board, Mental Health Alerts

three richmond police officer standing in line against protesters
Richmond activists have been calling for a civilian review board and mental health alerts since 2018. (Crixell Matthews/VPM)

A majority of Richmond City Council members say they will support two policing reforms that protesters are demanding. 

The city has been rocked by four days of protests and riots in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Among the demands from protesters are the creation of a civilian review board to monitor police use-of-force and requiring mental health officials to be present when police respond to people in crisis. Activists have dubbed the latter a ‘Marcus Alert’, named after Marcus-David Peters who was killed by Richmond Police in 2018 while naked and unarmed.

Ninth District Councilman Michael Jones announced on Tuesday that he will introduce ordinances to create the review board and Marcus Alert.

“There is no community policing without the community,” Jones said. “We can’t be afraid to have the voice, we can’t be afraid to have input. It is necessary for us to ensure the public trust.”

Council members Kim Gray, Chris Hilbert, Kristen Larson and Andreas Addison told VPM that they will support these two measures. Councilwomen Ellen Robertson and Cynthia Newbile could not be reached by phone on Tuesday, and eighth district representative Reva Trammell said she wants to see legislation before voicing support.

Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch said she also submitted a separate request on Monday to draw up an ordinance establishing a civilian review board. Lynch said she will support Jones’ proposal to institute the ‘Marcus Alert’.

“My recommendation is to really form a provider network and to partner with different mental health providers that can do mobile crisis response in these situations,” she said. 

Activist organizations like the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project have been calling for a civilian review board since 2017, but, until now, the city has not moved to create one. Following Peters’ death, activists also began calling for a way to ensure trained mental health professionals are on the scene when police encounter someone in crisis.

Community organizer Chelsea Higgs Wise said activists who have been working on this issue for years need to be included in formulating and implementing these reforms.

“This has to be shifting to community control,” Higgs Wise said. “That’s the point of a civilian review board: to start the culture shift of policing to community control.”

Before Richmond City Council can consider new legislation, council staff must work with the City Attorney’s office to draft it. It can take days or even weeks for new ordinances to appear on the agenda. It’s unclear if the police reform legislation protesters are demanding will be fast-tracked. 

VPM is awaiting comment from the Richmond Police Department on whether they support these reforms.