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Three Years Later: No Police Oversight Board

Beltrante continues to lobby for citizens panel.

Next Meeting

Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability holds its next monthly meeting on April 16 at the Martha Washington Library. The invited speaker is the mother of late Taft Sellers, victim of Alexandria City Police shooting in February.

Details

Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability

P.O. Box 7800

Alexandria, VA 22307-9998

Website: www.virginiaccpa....>

E-mail: virginiaccpa@aol.com

Three years after forming the Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, retired D.C. homicide detective Nicholas Beltrante and his organization have not realized their goal of getting the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to establish a citizen police oversight panel.

The genesis of Beltrante’s effort was triggered In 2009 when David Masters, a Vietnam veteran, alleged to have stolen flowers from a Route 1 nursery, was shot and killed by Fairfax police after a car chase. Masters was unarmed and sitting in his car while stopped on a service road at the corner of Fort Hunt Road and Route 1.

This incident, and the secrecy surrounding the county investigation led Beltrante to form the CCPA to lobby for the creation of a police citizen oversight board appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Nationally, 150 citizen police oversight panels exist, including one in the District of Columbia and another in Prince Georges County, Md. Eventually, after studying the proposal to establish a citizen police oversight panel, former Police Chief David Rohrer and former County Executive Robert Griffin recommended that the Board of Supervisors designate the independent auditor to review and comment on citizen complaints of alleged police misconduct. Three years later the Board of Supervisors has not changed its position. Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerald Hyland, chair of the Board’s Public Safety Committee, reaffirmed that the Board of Supervisors continues to prefer the independent auditor function to review alleged police misconduct complaints. “There is no support on the Board to create a police citizen oversight board,” Hylanbd said.

Despite what Beltrante characterizes as “Board of Supervisors stonewalling,” he and his organization have kept pressing for the police accountability panel, supporting changes in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to amend the blanket exemption for police from releasing police incident reports, and serving as an active voice for citizens complaining about alleged police misconduct.

“There were 110 police citizen oversight boards in the U.S. when I formed our group; there are now 150 such organizations in the U.S.,” Beltrante said. He argues that there is virtually no oversight, no accountability, and no transparency over police actions.

Asked to describe his organizations’ accomplishments over the past three years Beltrante listed the following:

  • 250 members statewide.

  • Serve as a focal point and voice for citizen complaints of alleged police misconduct. He said he now regularly gets letters from all over the state about alleged police misconduct. Upon receipt of complaints his organization does the best it can to review the facts and circumstances, and comment to the appropriate jurisdiction about alleged misconduct. For example, the recent shooting fatality in the City of Alexandria will be on the CCPA’s monthly public meeting agenda on April 16 at the Martha Washington Library.

  • Identified, through the use of the federal FOIA, a list of 61 civil rights complaints sent by Fairfax County citizens to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. In addition, the Justice Department listed 27 complaints from the City of Alexandria, and 19 complaints from Arlington County. Disposition of the complaints was not made available. Beltrante said that if there was an oversight panel many of these complaints would have likely been resolved by a citizens group working with the police.

  • Developed an oversight board proposal and submitted it to the Board of Supervisors.

  • Gained visibility and public attention on the benefits and opportunities of a police citizen oversight board to the media. Editorials in support of a police citizen oversight panel have been published by several local and national news media.

  • Provided support to state-wide organizations seeking a more open and flexible Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Police incident reports in Virginia are withheld even in closed investigations.

  • Gained the support of local, state, and national organizations supporting the CCPA’s effort to establish police citizen oversight in Fairfax County.