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City Council Setting Aside $204,000 For Civilian Review Board

Building and parking garage
Richmond Police Department Headquarters on Grace Street. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Richmond City Council members have agreed to provide roughly $204,000 for a civilian review board examining police misconduct, about a third of the funding requested.

Richmond’s Task Force for the Establishment of a Civilian Review Board is currently working to outline how the board will operate, what power it will have and what kind of resources it will need. It’s still unclear when the board will be operational, although task force members are hoping for the start of 2022. The civilian review board will investigate police shootings and resident complaints.

While funding for the future board was left out of the budget Mayor Levar Stoney proposed in March, three council members — Michael Jones, Stephanie Lynch and Cynthia Newbille — put in budget amendments. In an interview, Lynch said she hopes the $204,000 in initial funding can help the board get off ground within the next year.

“They will be funded with two staff positions in order to really stand up a full civilian review board,” Lynch said.

The funding City Council agreed to is significantly less than the roughly $604,000 requested by the civilian review board task force. Eli Coston, a task force co-chair and assistant professor at VCU, said the $604,000 was an estimate of what the future board will cost for half a year of operation, starting Jan. 1, 2022.

The board being envisioned by the task force would be one of the most comprehensive and well-funded in the country.

The proposed $1.2 million annual budget would cover 10 full-time positions, including five investigators, a policy analyst and executive director. It also includes money for mediation and outside legal counsel. The nine members of the civilian review board would receive a $100 stipend per meeting to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply.

Coston said the task force has looked to other cities, like Oakland and Portland, to figure out what sort of resources a civilian review board in Richmond might need.

“This would really be a very comprehensive [civilian review board],” they said. “All of the best practices from other jurisdictions would be incorporated into it.”

There are still a lot of unanswered questions around how the board will function, something Coston readily admits.

Because Richmond’s budget negotiations for the 2021-22 budget end in May, the task force was forced to submit a request without public input. The task force began hosting town halls last week. Coston said they don't expect to hand in their final recommendations to City Council until later this summer.

“We still have to gather community input, make our recommendations to City Council. City Council then has to approve an ordinance and get those positions posted with the city,” Coston said. “So, it might actually take further into the year than we anticipated.”

City Council members also expressed concern that some of the big questions around the future board’s function haven’t been answered, and those answers may have big budget implications.

For example, the task force hasn’t yet decided whether training will be required for all board members. It also hasn’t decided whether the civilian review board should take up past cases or only investigate complaints made after it is formed.

“There’s a lot of questions that will help determine what the workload is going to look like,” Councilmember Lynch said. “Like if you want to do a retroactive complaint system going back 10 or 15 years, that would be a greater need of investigation.”

In addition to funding for a future civilian review board, City Council also agreed to direct more than $500,000 to the Richmond Public Defender’s Office to fund salary increases. That funding will be a recurring cost for the city. It’s part of a two-step plan to address pay disparities between public defenders, who represent people that can’t afford a lawyer, and prosecutors.