Radford city police chief to form community advisory panel

Panel will apprise the chief of police directly on community needs for police services; however, it will not review police use of force, disciplinary matters or personnel matters.
By Sam Wall –
The Roanoke Times

RADFORD — The city's police chief recently announced he is creating an advisory panel made up of a diverse group of community stakeholders to maintain and improve the department's trust with the community.

Chief Jeff Dodson — who took over the position in January — wrote in an email that the main functions of the panel will include:
  • Apprising the chief of police directly on community needs for police services.
  • Assisting in educating the community at large about the functions and roles of the Radford City Police Department.
  • Assisting with the citizens police academy and will be highly encouraged to attend, if they haven't already.
  • Acting in a capacity that promotes trust and cooperation between the community and the police.
However, the panel will not review police use of force, disciplinary matters or personnel matters, according to Dodson.

“The role and responsibility of this panel is to help our agency accomplish our mission related to community outreach and crime prevention. A civilian review board is focused on oversight and review of complaints, use of force, and personnel. This group will not be tasked with that responsibility and its mission/responsibilities are different,” he wrote.

The idea for the panel predates the May 25 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, according to Dodson.

“The idea has been in the works for several months. I have a lot of community policing initiatives that I am hoping to implement within the department and community. These initiatives include hosting a National Night Out event in the fall, starting a neighborhood watch program within the city, and holding another Citizen's Police Academy. All of these initiatives are things that the Chief's Advisory Panel will be vital in providing feedback about in the coming months,” he wrote.

Dodson wrote that a mix of training, a review process, data tracking and the use of body cameras are used to ensure officers are following procedure when it comes to using force.

Additionally, Dodson wrote, “Since the George Floyd murder, the department has developed an internal working group to take an in-depth look at use of force policies to ensure that changes are not needed in light of recent events. If the working groups identifies items that are needed, then changes will be made.”

How the 13-15 panel members will be chosen is still being determined, but Dodson expects to make some selections himself, while “other selections will be made in consultation with various community partners in the city.”

“These partners may include Chamber of Commerce, New River Community Action, Radford City Schools, local NAACP branch, New River Valley Community Services, TRIAD, and Radford University. The goal is to develop a diverse panel, which gives us the best representation of the entire community,” he wrote.

As talks of systemic racism in the judicial system — especially in regards to how police departments operate — have been ongoing throughout the country, Dodson wrote that he believes the problem exists, but not in Radford.

“However, we certainly should be cognizant that this does exist in other areas and we need to remain proactive in not allowing it to become an issue within our city,” he wrote.

City Councilwoman Naomi Huntington, who is a defense attorney and previously worked as a prosecutor in Pulaski, said she thinks the panel is a great idea.

“I think it's going to be a real benefit to the community ... police departments need to be engaged with the communities that they are policing and this is a way to make sure they are serving our community appropriately,” she said.

Huntington continued: “I can only see this as a very very good thing. It's a very frustrating time right now. It's very easy to compartmentalize and to shrink issues into black and white with no room for gray, us or them police or Black Lives Matter and that's not the case. I should not be the case. We cannot remove nuance from these conversations and by establishing this bridge between minority communities and our police department we are creating a space for those lost conversations that are very desperately needed.”

Huntington said she would also like to see a focus on how the department could improve diversity among its employees, as well as more diversity in other city departments.

“I think it's an important conversation to have just to make sure that our police force is in fact represented throughout the population that we do have,” she said. “And so I would be very happy seeing them focus on that and asking themselves ‘how can we improve as an organization?' and that's something he's [Dodson] talked about.”

Dodson hopes to have the panel in place by mid July.

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