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Opinion/Commentary: Boyles comments on Brackney: A tough and unpopular decision

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Charlottesville City Coundil

At their meeting of Sept. 7, Charlottesville city councilors listen to comments from the public about the firing of Police Chief RaShall Brackney.

Recently, I made the decision to terminate the employment agreement of Dr. RaShall Brackney, Charlottesville’s chief of police. It was not easy.

Whether at last week’s City Council meeting or during one-on-one conversations with residents since the announcement, I did not expect to be confronted with such anger and vitriol. Making unpopular decisions, however, comes with the job.

In my haste to solve a problem that I felt was growing out of control, I decided to act because I felt we were heading into another situation where Charlottesville Police Department would be gripped in chaos.

Despite successes in modernizing the department, recent public statements made by the Virginia Police Benevolent Association brought to the public’s attention two officer surveys assessing officers’ opinions of the current state of leadership in the department. These surveys revealed substantial concerns of trust and confidence in the leadership.

I found these concerns troubling, especially when factoring in the known strained relationships across government, community, religious and regional stakeholder groups. These relationships are critically important; and when internal and external strife are present, it is imperative to act.

So as your city manager, I took decisive action to prevent key leadership positions — which were in jeopardy of becoming vacant — from erupting into deeper divides within the department.

While great strides were made during Chief Brackney’s time with the department in areas of racial equity and addressing officer conduct, many of these changes came about at the expense of leadership mistrust among many of the officers we depend on to protect and serve our city. A well-functioning modern police force requires confidence, proactive communications and leadership to meet the demands and commitment to equitable policing. I took what I consider a calculated risk to hit the reset button quickly so we could find the next chief, who could not only build atop the contributions led by Chief Brackney but also establish strong community bonds to support our 21st-century policing priorities in Charlottesville.

In hindsight, I would have engaged the City Council more directly in my deliberations and worked in partnership with Chief Brackney to develop an improvement plan. Fact is, I just did not have the luxury of time. I found the moment critical to act and felt the larger community would respect my intentions to guide our police department to a stable and evolving law enforcement outfit capable of making all residents safe, respected, and proud.

While her tenure as chief of police may not have ended as many of us had hoped, I trust Chief Brackney will continue to do great things in law enforcement. The same is true for outcomes I hope we can continue to work toward, together, in Charlottesville.

Chip Boyles is city manager of Charlottesville.

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