Police review board powers ‘extremely concerning’ to law enforcement


Prince William County is watching multiple bills in the General Assembly that its legal consultant says could have an adverse impact on law enforcement and taxpayers.

The first is a bill that would allow anyone who feels like a police officer has deprived them of their rights the ability to sue the police officer and the jurisdiction in which the officer is employed. The bill by Delegate Jeffery Bourne (D-Richmond) passed the House of Delegates with a 49-45 vote with three abstentions and is expected to now go to the Senate.

An officer could be sued whether or not the alleged rights violation took place while the officer was on duty. The legislation could clear the way for more lawsuits against police and the county, warned John Stirrup, the county’s legislative consultant with Alcalde and Fay public affairs firm.

“Anyone who has a personal vendetta against a police officer can make a complaint and have them terminated?” asked Coles District Supervisor Yesli Vega.

“That’s my read on this,” replied Stirrup.

Acting county police chief Jarad Phelps weighed in and explained that, currently, complaints against officers are categorized as founded or unfounded. “Founded complaints are when some type of event has occurred,” said Phelps.

If officers are automatically penalized for unfounded, or alleged misconduct, that would hamper the department’s ability to recruit and keep officers on the force.

“If the language is just ‘alleged,’ it is extremely concerning,” Phelps added. “It will have an impact on  [the officers’] psyche alone, and it will have a dramatic impact on the ability to recruit new officers into the field.”

The county is also watching legislation that would create police citizen review baords, which would have the authority to discipline and terminate police officers. Unlike citizen advisory boards now in place in Fairfax and Virginia Beach, the citizen review boards would have suboena poswer, and its authority would superceed the chief of police and top county or city admninistrators.

“So, a civilian who has no experience in law enfrocement can be makinbg a determination that trumps the policies the chief of police has in place?” said Brentsville District Sueprvisor Jeanine Lawson. “… this is ludicrous.”

The legislation, from Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church), mandates the review boards be in place across the state by July 2021.

In the Senate, county leaders are watching legislation from Scott Surrovell (D-Mount Vernon, Stafford, Woodbridge) that would remove mandatory sentences for those who assault police, firefighters, and judges. The bill would reduce severity of the punishment to a Class 6 felony, punishable by one to five years in jail.

Lawson suggested the senator include elected officials in the bill. Currently, assaults on elected officials is considered a Class 5 felony, punishable by as many as 10 years in prison, according to Stirrup.

Surrovell told Potomac Local News today he has not studied assaults on elected officials in order to incorporate it into his bill.

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