Arlington County Board Adopts Community Oversight Board

Published on July 22, 2021

In an effort to improve transparency and accountability in the Arlington County Police Department, the Arlington County Board voted today 5-0 to establish a Community Oversight Board (COB) of the police department that will have independent investigative and subpoena power. The ordinance also calls for an accompanying Independent Policing Auditor to work with the Community Oversight Board.

View the complete ordinance in the Arlington County Code.

The Oversight Board will consist of seven voting members who are residents of the County and reflect the demographic diversity as well as two non-voting members with prior experience in law enforcement, all of whom will be appointed by the County Board. This COB and the Independent Auditor will be charged with conducting concurrent investigations where warranted, reviewing citizen complaints and recommending/reviewing police disciplinary actions and policy reviews, among other duties. The ordinance also calls for an accompanying Independent Policing Auditor to work with the Oversight Board.

The Board considered several challenging aspects of policing oversight throughout the public hearing, including approving a measure giving the COB the authority to issue subpoenas following a good faith effort to participate with the County Police Department and County Manager to gain access to the people and records needed to conduct its work, as well as the level of disciplinary authority given to the COB.

"This ordinance takes important steps necessary to increase transparency, accountability, and trust among our police department, our community, and our residents and communities of color in particular," said County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. "The Community Oversight Board and Independent Auditor will provide significant and new community oversight with the goal of improving policing in Arlington County."

The creation of the Community Oversight Board comes at the recommendation of the Police Practices Group, which was convened by the County Manager a year ago following events involving policing and racial justice across the United States. That 15-member PPG included a subcommittee charged with recommending the type and approach to civilian oversight of its police department.

Since it was first presented in May, the Board conducted a series of community conversations and work sessions to ensure constituent feedback was considered throughout the process. A primary concern was that of investigative authority and the pros and cons of a concurrent vs a sequential investigative model. This final ordinance incorporates many of not only the recommendations of the PPG, but also those of numerous residents and stakeholder groups who participated in the process.

The County's FY 2022 adopted budget includes $125,000 for the Independent Policing Auditor. This funding level assumed that an IPA would not be employed by the County until this current fiscal year. The full-year cost for that position will be included as part of the FY 2023 budget. The estimated full year cost of the IPA is close to $200,000. Once the IPA is hired, recommendations will be sought from that individual as to the best way to supplement resources for his or her work.

The Board will solicit applications and make appointments to the inaugural COB throughout Fall 2021 with the goal of the COB beginning its work in Spring 2022. Once appointed, the COB will assist the County Manager in the recruitment and selection of the Independent Policing Auditor. Arlington County has joined NACOLE — the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. They will conduct a public training for County Board members including a review of the Arlington County model and recommended approaches to soliciting and selecting members of the COB.

Watch the July 21 Board Meeting on COB.