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Norfolk’s looking at a new police oversight panel. Here’s what it would - and wouldn’t - do.

Protesters in the summer of 2020 pushed for police reforms in cities across the nation, including Norfolk. (Photo by Bec Feldhaus Adams)
Photo by Rebecca Feldhaus Adams, WHRO. Protesters in Hampton Roads held some marches Memorial Day weekend and have had several marches since then.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020, protesters in cities across the nation called for racial justice and reforms to police departments.

Norfolk’s City Council said at the time it wanted to implement a civilian review board for the city’s police.

Progress has been slow. Activists in the region have complained of the glacial pace at which cities in the region have taken steps to ensure greater police accountability.

But it looks like Norfolk is finally getting close to approving and filling a review board.

The details are still being worked out, but the City Council saw a draft of a proposed city ordinance establishing the board this week.

Several said they had concerns about the resolution, in particular some of the proposed requirements and exclusions for appointment to the board.

The proposed advisory board in Norfolk would include seven members - one from each of Norfolk’s wards and superwards - and meet at least monthly.

Those members would have to be at least 21 and couldn’t be current or former law enforcement officers or City of Norfolk employees. They’ll be interviewed and appointed by the City Council.

In the initial draft, there were also clauses that excluded those with felony convictions in the last decade or those who had served on a Norfolk board or commission over the last 6 years.

It also disqualified anyone who had served on a similar police review board in another city.

“If they have that background, you’d think we’d want that,” Councilwoman Andria McClellan said.

Council members expressed concerns about those exclusions and asked city staff to bring a revised ordinance back to the council later this month.

Based on the proposal presented this week, this is the scope of the board’s review abilities:

  • The proposed board would be able to review internal investigations of specific types of citizen complaints against police - those involving allegations of excessive force, biased policing, civil rights violations or abuse of authority.
  • The board would be able to offer non-binding recommendations and opinions on the outcome of those investigations to the Chief of Police and City Manager.
  • The board can review police department policies and practices and make reports to the City Council recommending changes.

Here’s what it wouldn’t be able to do, based on the current proposal:

  • The board cannot itself independently investigate alleged police misconduct or discipline officers 
  • The board can’t examine internal Norfolk Police Department investigations that are based on anything other than the four specifically-listed types of civilian complaints.
  • The board can’t review internal investigations until any pending criminal or civil proceedings related to the internal investigation are complete, which can take years.
  • The board can’t investigate internal complaints from Norfolk Police Department employees about their workplace.
  • The board can’t review investigations about complaints where the incident happened two or more years before the complaint was filed.
  • Board members would be prohibited from publicly sharing most information they obtain through the process of reviewing internal investigations, including statements given to the board by Norfolk Police Department employees.

The scope of the proposed Norfolk advisory board’s powers are similar to those of the police review panel neighboring Virginia Beach established in 1991.
The City Council there voted to beef up it’s police review efforts last year, with a new board that will have independent investigative and subpoena powers.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

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