On March 1, Gov. Youngkin issued his first veto, challenging the core values of the independent civilian oversight of alleged police misconduct established by Arlington County last year. His move is consistent with his campaign rhetoric opposing progress on racial equity and even supporting reversal of some of the progress made to date. In a statement accompanying the veto, the Governor relied on a series of false claims.
The horrific murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police in May 2020 heightened public understanding of the problem of police brutality in the United States. Communities across the nation undertook extensive reviews of how they could make their own local police operations fairer, less violent, and more transparent. One widely adopted reform was to create some form of independent oversight system to ensure that the police are held accountable for any misconduct.
Arlington was one of those communities. Its inquiry took over a year and included consultations with experts as well as extensive public participation. Arlington residents and civil rights groups took part, as did police officers, police command staff, and representatives of the police union. Relying on this work, the County Board created a Community Oversight Board and the position of Independent Policing Auditor. The office of the Auditor is charged with doing the administrative, investigative, and policy work necessary to support the Oversight Board. Without the Auditor’s office, the Oversight Board would lack the personnel to perform its functions effectively.
Creation of an office of Independent Policing Auditor, reporting to the Arlington County Board rather than the Arlington County Manager, requires enabling legislation from the state legislature. Arlington Delegate Patrick Hope introduced House Bill 670 for this purpose, and it passed both houses of the General Assembly. That is the legislation that Governor Youngkin vetoed.
Youngkin’s accompanying statement falsely claims that under the County’s ordinance the Auditor could be empowered by the County Board to make “binding disciplinary decisions.” This was a topic of debate in the process leading to the creation of the Oversight Board and Auditor’s office, but the County ultimately decided NOT to grant disciplinary powers to the Oversight Board or the Auditor. Despite the Governor’s express claim to the contrary, HB 670 does NOT change that decision, which is formalized in the Arlington County code. Youngkin also claims that the County ordinance would encourage the appointment of an Auditor “without any formal input from a law enforcement officer.” While the Oversight Board, which along with the County Board advises the County Manager about the hiring of the Auditor, may not include any currently serving law enforcement officers, the ordinance expressly requires that the Oversight Board include at least two members who have past experience in law enforcement. This ensures the inclusion of a law-enforcement perspective in the hiring process. Finally, the Governor repeatedly describes the Auditor-appointment process and the oversight process itself as “political,” although the ordinance expressly bars from inclusion on the Oversight Board current or former elected officials or candidates for elected office. Virtually every reason the Governor gave for vetoing the legislation is erroneous.
E-mail the Governor at https://www.governor.virginia.gov/communicating-with-the-governors-office. Tell him you strongly oppose his veto and support a truly Independent Policing Auditor in Arlington as a step toward a more accountable, transparent, and fair justice system.