It Took Three Years for Charlottesville to Hold Its First Official Police Civilian Review Board Meeting. Here’s How It Went.

Kim Kelley-Wagner /

By Elle Meyers

June 30, 2020

In 2017, Charlottesville became the focal point of white supremacy in America when it was the unwilling host of the Unite the Right rally.

Members of the Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board (PCRB) voted unanimously to revert back to the original set of bylaws submitted last November to the city council, at their first meeting on Monday.

In a Zoom meeting lasting more than two hours, the new members of the board took time to elect officials. James Watson was elected chairman of the board and Stuart Evans was elected to vice-chair, both by unanimous vote. Member Nancy Carpenter created a motion to adopt the initial bylaws created by the previous members of the board right away.

In November, members of the first PCRB board submitted bylaws for the board to the city council, but the council passed an altered version that some have called “watered down.”

“I’m in favor of adopting the initial set of bylaws because right now we’ve had just about two years of intense hard work by a lot of people in the community and they were given to us with the purview to decide which version of the bylaws we wanted to operate under,” said member Nancy Carpenter, who made a motion to take a vote during the discussion. “I think that the community spoke through the initial board by saying they wanted a very strong PCRB.”

Although this was the board’s first official meeting, the city’s PCRB already has a years-long history. In 2017, Charlottesville became the focal point of white supremacy in America when it was the unwilling host of the Unite the Right rally. During the two-day riot, a counter protester was killed, and the fallout led Charlottesville’s police chief to retire after considerable criticism of his department’s handling of the rally. Later that year, the city council created the PCRB.

In the time since, an initial board was created and the members were tasked with creating an organizational structure and bylaws to help the board change the way policing works in the city. The board submitted their draft of the bylaws to the city council last November for approval, but their terms on the PCRB expired before they could have an official first meeting with the bylaws in place.

Former member of the PCRB Sarah Burke explained in an interview that the members asked the city council to extend their term so they could continue their work, but the request was denied. Since then the board with its new members was scheduled to meet in March, however the plans were derailed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Problems with the PCRB didn’t stop there. The city council altered the bylaws the initial members submitted, city council members have criticized it for trying to overstep its bounds, one member of the board Gwendolyn Allen has resigned, and the board hasn’t received much support from Chief of Police RaShall Brackney, who said in an NPR interview that she didn’t “know if the foundations [for the board] were properly put in place.”

During the meeting on Monday Chief Brackney only spoke once to say that she was taking notes and listening to the discussion but did not provide input. Dogwood has repeatedly asked Brackney’s office for comment on the PCRB but has been told she is unavailable.

Burke, who helped to draft the initial set of bylaws, was disappointed when the city council decided to alter them.

“We did a fair amount of training and consultation with the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, and what we created and presented back in November of last year was what we thought was the most comprehensive way that we could build community oversight of policing,” she said during the public comments portion of the meeting. “Not just viewing complaints against officers but also looking at data of discriminatory practices.”

Burke said that the new bylaws the council passed for the PCRB were a “watered down version” of the initial ones. Specifically, she said, the current laws do not include “the police department in the community engagement,” and it also does not include the board in a lot of major decisions.

“The city’s version also is very focused on the executive director having a fair amount of authority, and that person is hired by the city manager and then has input on the board,” she said. “Our concern is that it takes away a lot of power from the board and from all the voices from the community [the board members] promised to listen to.”

Members of the current board also noted in discussion that they did not understand why the city council had changed the bylaws at all.

After the first meeting, Burke said that she was pleased to see the members of the board focus on the community’s needs by prioritizing public comment, which she pointed out had been left off the meeting’s agenda even though it is mandated in the bylaws. She was also happy to see Carpenter’s resolution to revert the bylaws back to the original ones proposed back in November.

“I was really pleased to see the board keep firm in its commitments, and it was great to see the city step back and take on more of a support role,” Burke said. “[The PCRB] has their work cut out for them! I hope to see the board do whatever followup is necessary to ensure that their resolution to revert to the initial bylaws and ordinance makes it onto Council’s next agenda.”

The board is scheduled to meet next Tuesday, July 7.

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