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Letter: Why the resistance to a citizen review board?

Letter: Why the resistance to a citizen review board?

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For the last 13 years, I’ve been serving on various boards in our community. I’ve served on city boards, such as the Parks and Recreation Board, The Office on Youth Board, and I was elected to the Soil and Water Conservation Board. Most of our city departments have a volunteer citizen board that makes sure they are using our tax dollars wisely and providing a good, quality service to the community. I am on various nonprofit boards, where again, we make sure they are spending money wisely and working towards the mission of their group. Our First Aid Crew, who does life-saving work in our community every day, has a board.

I find it interesting that there is such pushback about a police board. Of all the examples of boards I gave, the police have the most power. Those with power should expect to have the most oversight. Power without oversight can easily become corrupt, people can get careless and start to feel invincible.

One of the main reasons I support the creation of a citizen review board is to create a safe place people can make complaints. I have heard from many people that they do not feel comfortable going to the police to make a police complaint. How do people not understand this? Again, the power dynamic has to be considered. If you have a compliant or a serious issue with your boss, you don’t go to your boss directly, you go to HR. Those of us who have had bad bosses before, know the tricks people in power can play when complaints start coming their way. How many of us have lost a job when we complained?

A review board takes a look at citizen complaints and also the policies the department operates under. This review is important because we want our police department to reflect the city and how the people of our city wants their police department to operate.

People say we don’t need a board because we don’t have problems like bigger cities and departments have. If you wait until there is a problem to create a board, you are already too late. A board is there to work through issues, solve problems, prevent the big problems we see in bigger cities.

I attended one of the listening sessions organized by the police department. It was a great meeting and I learned a lot. I learned that the police department monitors the public social media pages and tattoos of their officers to look for images and posts about white supremacy.

I learned that our current chief promoted the first woman to captain and first African American to sergeant.

Waynesboro does not use choke holes and does use body cameras.

I am concerned about the low pay for our officers, the amount of overtime they are working and that there is no mandated time off once you’ve worked a certain number of hours. We have officers who are working extra because the pay is so low, which I understand, but we shouldn’t want tired police on the streets, tired police make mistakes. We should pay our officers better, so they don’t have to work overtime just to make ends meet. Everyone deserves a living wage.

There is no mandatory mental health debriefing, but they are looking to start a peer to peer counseling program. I would like to see mental health debriefing made mandatory.

A citizen review board should be created and thought of just like all the other boards we have in our city. A citizen review board should not be thought of as an attack against the police department but a tool to better serve the citizens of Waynesboro.

Jennifer Lewis

Staunton

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