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Opinion/Editorial: CRB in turmoil — again, still

Opinion/Editorial: CRB in turmoil — again, still

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Welcome to Hansel Aguilar, recently announced as the first executive director of Charlottesville’s Police Civilian Review Board.

He can’t get here too soon.

The CRB was born amid dissension, and it’s involved in another divisive argument right now.

It will fall to Aguilar to provide technical and professional support that might help the board sort its way out of its difficulties.

The board is intended to provide civilian oversight of police activities, with an aim toward investigating and arbitrating complaints against police.

Its website says the group’s aim is “to provide objective and independent civilian-led oversight of the Charlottesville Police Department in an effort to enhance transparency and trust, to promote fair and effective policing, and to protect the civil and constitutional rights of the people of the City of Charlottesville.”

But from the beginning, there have been disagreements over everything from the purpose and authority of the CRB, to the bylaws that would govern its activities, to the volunteers who would be appointed to implement its purposes.

One of those disagreements was resolved when the General Assembly last year passed legislation, effective July 1 of this year, giving police review boards expanded powers — including the ability to issue subpoenas and conduct other investigative activities. Charlottesville’s CRB has been moving forward under that legislation. Just last month, it submitted to City Council a proposed ordinance incorporating those expanded powers.

But when the board was considering these powers and this ordinance in April, then-Chief of Police RaShall Brackney raised concerns about several technical aspects of the ordinance, suggesting that they might endanger police officers’ due-process rights. City attorneys disagreed with her assessment.

This was playing out amid the larger issue of police morale. A city-sponsored survey in 2020 already had confirmed that problem.

Then in August, a survey by the Central Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association re-confirmed the moral problem, and made it public.

Also in August, at a meeting of the CRB Chairman Bellamy Brown read an independent statement calling for a change in police leadership.

Less than three weeks later, Brackney was fired.

Now some community members, some former members of the CRB and at least one current member of the board are criticizing Brown for a perceived role in the chief’s departure. Justified or not, the perception is strengthened by the revelation that for months Brown had been in contact with the PBA — the organization that produced the bombshell morale survey.

Indeed, the problems facing the Civilian Review Board currently, and that have faced it in the past, are too complex to fully articulate here.

Suffice it to say that the CRB needs some leadership to help it through this turmoil — and Hansel Alejandro Aguilar Avila has just been chosen for the job.

Aguilar’s resume is encouraging.

He has experience both as a police officer and as a civilian review board member in another jurisdiction.

Aguilar was born in Honduras and came to the U.S. at age 8 with his family. He holds a B.A. in criminal justice and sociology from Rutgers University and a master of sociology from George Mason, where he is also working toward his Ph.D.

He’s been a law enforcement officer in Northern Virginia, a police misconduct investigator in Washington, D.C., and an inaugural member of Fairfax County’s Civilian Review Panel, according to a city press release.

That dual background in law enforcement and as a member of a new police board like Charlottesville’s should stand him in good stead as he helps the CRB work through its growing pains.

Aguilar starts work Sept. 27.

Considering the board’s current turmoil, his expertise is sorely needed. He can’t get here too soon.

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