Police vs. Civilians: What will it take to establish an effective Police Civilian Review Board?

In 2008, when then Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo provided his recommendations for a proposed Police Civilian Review Panel to City Council, he used an argument that those pushing for a strong CRB in Charlottesville, given the current climate, would have likely found laughable.

“Charlottesville is fortunate to have a professional, well trained police department that does not have the inherent problems found in other departments where oversight committees have been formed,” wrote Longo, saying that was the reason the Panel only need to have an advisory role. He also defended the department’s internal review and disciplinary process by saying they had a “strongly worded policy governing bias-based policing.”

Longo’s recommendation also revealed that a “Police Complaint Review Panel” that reviewed police incidents existed in Charlottesville from 1991 through 1997, but Longo said it was disbanded due to “lack of complaints, interest, and change in personnel.”

Quinton Harrell says he was on the Review Panel from 2009 to 2010. Harrell founded Heritage United Builders, which helps African-American and minority sub-contractors find jobs, and was a facilitator for the Dialogue on Race at the time. It was a difficult time, he remembers, as he was reeling from the Great Recession, running a business, and pursuing a business degree, but the challenge he recalls the Review Panel having was the same as it is today.

“The panel’s challenge would be its definition to the community, its relation to Chief Longo’s office, and what purpose it could truly serve to effectuate change,” says Harrell. “I couldn’t see it, and in the end I just didn’t have time to play a role in strengthening the purpose.” Like the “Police Complaint Review Panel” before it, the “Police Civilian Review Panel” would quietly disappear. Read more…


Older Americans Month prompts new look at ‘age-friendly initiative’ for community

Daily Progress – When it comes to advocating for government planning initiatives and policies that benefit older people, advocates sometimes find it hard to get the public to push decision makers to act.

“We tend to dismiss people as they age,” said Natalie Snider, a senior program assistant with AARP Virginia, “… so government doesn’t deal with these planning and policy issues. …. There’s more of a focus on the needs of schools, young families, new businesses.”

But that could be a big mistake. READ MORE

Glitchy system: Inside the student software debacle

Why did Albemarle County school officials commit nearly $2 million to a software system that has proven faulty, despite multiple complaints from teachers that using it was a “waste of time,” and an admission from one County school official that it was “glitchy, to say the least”?

At a time when school systems are facing budget cuts, losing teachers, and seeing classroom size increase, spending on technology has soared. Indeed, terms like “digital learners” and “data driven education” have captured the imaginations– and purse strings– of school administrators.

Just recently, the Charlottesville School Board announced that it will spend $2.4 million on new tablet-type laptops for students. According to a recent article in the New York Times, education, technology, and big business are now entangled to the tune of $1.89 billion a year, the amount that schools spent on software for classroom use in 2010. Spending on hardware, researchers say, was likely five times that amount.

However, according to experts interviewed by the Times, there is very little specific evidence that using technology in the schools enhances learning.

“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” said Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, in the Times. “There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”

However, a Hook investigation reveals one possible trend line in the County school system: implementing the software system may have benefited top school administrators, and the company they contracted with, more than it has teachers and students.

But getting answers hasn’t been easy. read more

Extreme makeover: rich edition– State program benefits those who need it least

Ask most preservationists what they think of Virginia’s Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program, and you’ll hear them proudly say it’s one of the most generous, if not the most generous, programs in the country, leading to the rehabilitation of thousands of historic properties. Indeed, since the program’s inception in 1997, the state has awarded nearly $700 million in tax credits to homeowners and developers.

“This is free money,” writes Charlottesville architect Brian Broadus, who has specialized in historic building projects for over 20 years. “Why don’t more homeowners come and grab it?”


Seeing Red: Safety measure or cash grab?

With the arrival of Charlottesville’s first red light cameras comes the end of an honor system between drivers that has existed for decades, at least at one tricky intersection. Now it’s come to this: tickets for red light running will be generated by machines, not cops. Welcome to the world of 21st Century law enforcement.

But is this a legitimate effort to promote traffic safety? Or simply a cash grab by a private company and local government? More importantly, will the cameras actually stop red light running or simply have local drivers seeing red?

At a press conference last month announcing the installation of four red light traffic cameras (capable of taking photos and “situational” video footage of vehicles, not drivers) at the intersection of Rio Road and 29 North, County officials emphasized it was an effort to “increase traffic safety” at the dangerous intersection.

It’s an idea that has been discussed for nearly a decade, and after the Virginia General Assembly READ MORE