Seven members of the public will ultimately play a large part in determining whether a commission supporting the Leesburg Police Department is a good move for the county seat.
The Town Council officially voted Tuesday to form a task force that will study whether the town should move forward in creating a resident-led police department advisory commission. The vote came about two weeks after the council discussed the formation of such a task force during a work session, and a majority indicated it was in support of the idea.
Leesburg has the ability to create an advisory commission, but not a civilian oversight board for the police department. Legislation signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam last fall creates authority for certain civilian oversight bodies with direct regulatory authority over law enforcement agencies. But, towns are not authorized to create such oversight bodies. Localities in the legislation are defined as either cities or counties and, while town police departments are subject to oversight, only the county Board of Supervisors, not the Town Council, is authorized to create an oversight board for the town’s police department.
Those in support of creating the task force to explore the formation of an advisory commission said it was a unique opportunity to educate the public on police policies and procedures, and to provide for more community engagement. All members of the council, whether in support of the task force or not, praised the department for its high regard both locally and regionally, as well as the leadership of Police Chief Gregory Brown.
While not opining directly on the task force, Brown said there was “nothing wrong with further engagement to ensure the community continues to have trust in the Leesburg Police Department.”
But, he cautioned the council during its Tuesday meeting, “We have to be very careful and use caution to ensure that what we are doing fits and is tailored to the needs of our community.”
The adopted resolution states that the purpose of the task force is to evaluate whether the establishment of an advisory commission will help to enhance public trust, increase public communication and transparency, and promote public education on police procedures to ensure the fair and equal treatment of all citizens by the department. Task force members will review the department’s policies, procedures, and protocols; police training guidelines; educational outreach and citizen engagement programs; and police reform measures. The task force will have no involvement or responsibilities associated with human resources.
Each Town Council member will be responsible for making an appointment to the task force. Each appointee must be a town resident with experience and/or familiarity with police policies, procedures, law enforcement operations, and/or a legal background, according to the resolution. Staff from the Town Manager’s Office, Town Attorney’s Office and police department will provide administrative support to the task force.
The date at which the task force will convene has not yet been established, but expectations are that it will operate for no more than six months, with a report and recommendations then presented to the council.
The vote to establish the task force passed by a 4-3 measure, with Mayor Kelly Burk and council members Kari Nacy and Suzanne Fox opposed.
“I think that our council members are trying to be very proactive and have only the very best intentions, but I do feel very strongly this is not the right time to be doing this,” Burk said. “We have to be very careful what we do and how we do it so we’re not trying to give the impression that there’s anything wrong. [But] if this helps with the community and if that makes engagement possible maybe the education part of it could be useful.”