The task force that is creating a new civilian oversight board for the Richmond Police Department is asking the City Council for $604,050 for the first half of next year, an amount that would allow it to be one of the most wide-ranging in the country.
Its members unanimously approved the spending plan Tuesday night. The proposal accounts for only an initial six months of funding to allow time to hire the staff needed to run what essentially will become a new city office.
The task force is a precursor to a Civilian Review Board, a community panel authorized to investigate allegations of police misconduct. The task force is charged with recommending who should serve on that board, how it should function and how much it should cost. The question of cost is the group's first priority as the City Council votes to approve the fiscal year 2022 budget next month.
The proposed figure - which would amount to $1.2 million annually - would make it one of the most expensive civilian review boards in the country, but also one of the most effective, said Eli Coston, who co-chairs the task force and researched and compiled the budget proposal based on best practices and recommendations from other boards.
The proposal covers the salaries for an executive director, at least five investigators, an auditor, a policy analyst and support staff. It also includes fees for legal counsel, mediation and a stipend for board members. Nationally, most boards only have some, but not all, of those functions, Coston said.
When Charlottesville's board, which has been widely criticized as ineffective, was created last year, it was allocated a total of $150,000 in fiscal year 2021 to pay for an executive director. The city's current budget proposal for fiscal 2022 more than doubled that figure to $350,000.
"No other CRB in Virginia looks like what we might want to do," Coston said during a recent meeting.
Going forward, the task force plans to also recommend a minimum funding level — based on either a percentage of the police department's budget or as a ratio of investigators to officers — to ensure the board isn't defunded down the road when political wills change. But that percentage or ratio is still being debated by the group.
If approved, the annual $1.2 million figure would represent 1.25% of the Richmond Police Department's roughly $96 million allocation in Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, which makes no mention of a CRB. But Stoney and Police Chief Gerald Smith have voiced support for the board's creation.
The task force now has to find a member of the City Council to sponsor an amendment to Stoney's spending proposal to see it funded in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Council members Stephanie Lynch, who represents the 5th District, or Michael Jones, of the 9th District, are the most likely candidates, as they were the chief patrons of the paper that formed the task force.
Neither Lynch nor Jones had seen the task force's proposal on Wednesday, but both said they were committed to seeing the board formed and funded.
"I would be interested in seeing their recommendation, and to see what we can do in this pandemic budget," Jones said. "I’m committed to seeing that they have the money to operate long term."
Lynch said she couldn't fully endorse the amount without seeing the full proposal, but said the figure is "in the ballpark" of what she expected.
"In concept, I fully support a well-oiled and highly effective CRB," she said. "That will take money and investment."