A citizens' panel that reviews police internal-affairs decisions has not met since the end of February because it's run out of cases.
The Investigation Review Panel, or IRP, is a board of seven citizens appointed by City Council to hear appeals. Five hear cases and two are alternates. Citizens who have filed complaints against police officers, but who are unhappy with the internal-affairs outcome, can appeal to the IRP. However, no cases have been scheduled in the past five months.
This is the same panel that quit meeting in 2005 and went dormant for several years. Even so, citizens and some city leaders thought the panel was still working. City officials lost their jobs over the failure, and City Manager James Spore relaunched the IRP. Now, it is again idle.
Virginia Beach Human Resources Director Regina Hilliard said that might be because people just don't have as many reasons to file complaints. But people who have used the IRP system say the process was a rubber stamp.
"It was a waste of time," said Tonette Staton. She said officers broke her arm when they arrested her for public intoxication. She said the panel heard her complaint but quickly sided with the police version.
Since Nov., 2012, the panel has heard 42 cases. The members sided with citizens just six times.
Lesley Stukey had one of the six cases that was decided for the citizens, but she found out that meant little.
A candy-store clerk in Pembroke Mall suspected Stukey's 6-year-old child of shoplifting and reached inside the child's pants. The clerk found nothing, but Stukey was outraged. However, officers repeatedly refused to take a report.
"They decided there was nothing they could do about it," Stukey said.
Police told her to see a magistrate, who also refused to file charges. Finally, she went to the Commonwealth's Attorney's Officer where a prosecutor ordered charges.
"And that`s the only way I was able to file a report," she said.
Stukey lodged an internal-affairs complaint, but commanders sided with the officers. Her appeal then went to the IRP.
"The board found in my favor," Stukey said.
The panel wrote " ... the officer should have taken a criminal report for simple assault." The panel continued: "At no time is it appropriate for any person to touch a minor child without permission." The members also concluded, "the merchant should have been interviewed as part of the Internal Affairs investigation."
"What happened next?" NewsChannel 3 asked Stukey.
"I was waiting to hear what happened next," she said. "But nothing ever happened next."
Deputy Chief John Bell, in charge of internal affairs, confirmed nothing happened. The city's rules say the panel can't compel the police to do anything. It only makes recommendations, and in Stukey's case, police took no further action.
Bell said one panel decision did change policies at Animal Control. And after another decision, he encouraged internal-affairs investigators in the future to interview more people. But Bell said sometimes the panel's recommendations to do more investigation are "not practical." He says he respects the panel, but doesn't always agree with the decisions.
That makes Stukey believe that "nothing has really changed."