HD51 - Police Accountability

Executive Summary:

The Law Enforcement Subcommittee held four meetings in Richmond in1993 to conduct the study of police accountability. On May 25, 1993, Staff Attorney Dana Schrad presented an initial report of issues and objectives relevant to the police accountability study. The subcommittee directed staff to collect data about citizen review panels in Virginia, and about how citizen complaints against law enforcement officers are filed and resolved. Police Chief Jay Carey of Newport News and Command Sergeant W. L. Vaughn of the Henrico County Police Department each addressed the subcommittee about officer complaints and disciplinary practices in their localities. Ms. Linda Bird-Hardin, executive secretary for the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, discussed her organization's recent Virginia survey on police conduct, and told the subcommittee she would make the data available for the study. Mr. John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, requested that the subcommittee consider procedural guarantees for deputy sheriffs during the study. The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) also offered to provide the subcommittee with its recent survey results on use of force by officers. The subcommittee then directed staff to conduct field interviews with a variety of chiefs and sheriffs to collect information about how complaints are filed, processed and resolved in Virginia.

On August 24, 1993, the subcommittee heard the results of staff interviews with a number of Virginia chiefs and sheriffs. The results from the NAACP survey also were presented to the subcommittee, but the survey results from the VACP survey were not ready for release. The subcommittee directed staff to complete the field interviews for the next scheduled meeting.

At the September 21, 1993, meeting, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, Mr. Jay Cochran, presented the results from his association's "Use of Force" survey. He indicated to the subcommittee that the association will distribute another survey next year, and that there were plans to develop recommended guidelines for chiefs in the handling of citizen complaints. Mr. Larry Nowery of the Department of Criminal Justice Services presented to the subcommittee on the topic of police agency accreditation, and how it relates to professional police operations. The subcommittee then discussed the proposed development of a state accreditation process that would be less expensive and more tailored to Virginia than the national accreditation process. The subcommittee also discussed the need for a regular collection of data in Virginia that tracks citizen complaints against law enforcement officers and documents trends in officer conduct. Staff then presented preliminary recommendations to the subcommittee. Staff was directed to revise the recommendations as per the subcommittee's direction and present a final report at the next meeting.

On October 18, 1993, a final report with findings and recommendations was presented to the subcommittee. The subcommittee offered minor changes in the recommendations, and the subcommittee accepted the report pending the proposed changes. The revised recommendations were approved by the subcommittee on October 19, 1993. The full Crime Commission approved the report and recommendations at its November 30, 1993 meeting.

The findings and recommendations of the police accountability study, as approved by the Crime Commission, are as follows:

Finding: Delegate Robinson's letter requests that the Commission consider a regular, statewide gathering of information about police misconduct and disciplinary actions taken against errant officers. He has proposed that local law enforcement agencies annually provide data about officer disciplinary actions to a central repository, possibly housed in the Department of Criminal Justice Services. This is suggested as a means to identify and track police officers of questionable professional standing.

A data bank could be developed as an outcome of instituting a certification/decertification process to be used as a research tool for monitoring trends in police conduct in Virginia. This type of data could be used to support further development of certification standards and to improve law enforcement training programs.

Recommendation 1: A survey of local law enforcement agencies should be developed and implemented periodically to collect non-identifying, aggregate data on citizen complaints against officers, disciplinary actions taken and resolution of complaints. The survey results could be used to develop a state data repository on complaints and disciplinary actions to be used to direct the development of professionalism training.

The Crime Commission supports the continuation of a voluntary effort by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia Sheriffs' Association to collect and evaluate this data, and recommends that the VACP and the VSA work with the Department of Criminal Justice Services in the development, implementation and review of a regular survey. The data collected should be compiled and made available as aggregate data that does not identify individual officers or agencies. This data will allow for trends in police conduct and citizen complaints to be identified for further development of law enforcement professionalism efforts.

Finding: One means of controlling the performance of law enforcement officers is through a professional qualification process. Officers who are certified under the auspices of a state-approved program will have to meet or exceed minimum training and performance standards. Officers who fail to maintain these professional standards would lose their certification in Virginia. If such a program is adopted in Virginia, it will enable police chiefs and sheriffs to determine through a background check whether a prospective hire is currently certified, or whether he has lost his certification due to poor performance or a disciplinary action for misconduct.

Recommendation 2: Virginia should consider the establishment of a certification and decertification process to be used for all law enforcement officers in Virginia. Such a process would promote public accountability in that uniform hiring and firing standards and practices would be developed in Virginia, and officers who have been decertified would not be able to work again as sworn law enforcement officers in Virginia.

Finding: The citizen review panel approach to police accountability has not been widely accepted in the United States. It has worked in certain localities where the panel review process has been tailored to local needs and practices. However, there is no conclusive research that supports or disproves the citizen review panel as an appropriate or effective means of checking police disciplinary practices, regardless of the size or demographic makeup of the locality.

Recommendation 3: Virginia should continue to allow localities the option to establish citizen review panels by local ordinance or administrative procedure.

Finding: The more widely practiced approach to furthering police professionalism and accountability has been the development of more refined internal controls. Formal, written policies and procedures promote consistency and discourage arbitrariness in agency responses to citizen complaints. Additionally, minimum standards of professionalism, not only for the officer but for the agency, helps law enforcement executives to operate their agencies both efficiently and responsibly.

Recommendation 4: The Crime Commission should monitor the development by Virginia law enforcement organizations of a voluntary accreditation process for law enforcement agencies that establishes minimum operations and policy standards. Such agency accreditation should promote uniformity of minimum agency operations and policy standards across the Commonwealth. The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, assisted by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, should be requested to report to the Virginia State Crime Commission on the progress of a voluntary accreditation process for law enforcement agencies by August, 1994.