VA: ABC review panel recommends collaboration between students, law enforcement
October 8, 2015
The review panel mandated by Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Executive Order 40 released its set of recommendations for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control on Sept. 18, six weeks before the Nov. 1 deadline. The recommendations will be reviewed by McAuliffe and by the state legislature when it convenes for General Assembly in January.
McAuliffe signed Executive Order 40 into action last March, immediately following College student Martese Johnson’s bloody arrest by ABC agents, which received significant media attention.
The order gave four mandates: the immediate retraining of ABC agents; the new authority of the ABC’s Chief Operating Officer over the bureau’s law enforcement; the formation of an expert review panel; and greater collaboration between ABC law enforcement and local police.
“Recent events involving special agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in Charlottesville have underscored longstanding concerns about the agency’s Bureau of Law Enforcement,” McAuliffe said in the executive order. “Keeping Virginia families and communities safe is the highest responsibility of the Governor and state government.”
Since signing of the executive order, the governor’s office has been working to enforce the new mandates. After the review of Johnson’s arresting officers was completed, the officers were placed back on active duty in August. The review was released, following the arresting officers’ consent.
The expert review panel
Brian Moran, the Commonwealth’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, formed the review panel intended to provide McAuliffe with recommendations regarding ABC’s proceedings.
“The 20-person Expert Review Panel was created with the intention of including many different perspectives and opinions…representing a broad and diverse cross section of relevant stakeholder groups” said ABC spokesperson Kathleen Shaw in an email statement.
Student Council President Abraham Axler, a third-year College student, served as a member of the panel. Even though he and the rest of Student Council passed a resolution in March calling for an end of ABC’s law enforcement at the University and for the appointment of a Black Student Alliance representative to the panel, Moran appointed Axler to represent the University.
“I vigorously lobbied for representation from BSA for this panel so I sent this in a letter to the Governor that President Sullivan had delivered to him and we passed a resolution,” Axler said. “I talked to Secretary Moran a little bit. He certainly knew what my position was, but he called me and said he’d like me to serve on the panel.”
There were no other student representatives from the University appointed to the panel. However, Moran did elect to appoint a member of the BSA — President Aryn Frazier — to a panel specifically addressing body cameras for ABC agents.
“It would swing the panel if there was more than one person from the University,” Axler said regarding Moran’s rationale.
Recommendations and possible changes to the ABC
The panel submitted a list of nine recommendations for consideration.
The panel emphasized stronger collaboration with local and state law enforcement. This has not been the case in the past said Brian Coy, spokesman for the governor’s office.
“Obviously the ABC is the primary vendor for liquor sales around the Commonwealth, they’re also the primary regulator for alcoholic beverage control,” Coy said.
The same provision also recommended focusing the ABC law enforcement arm on assuring public safety in order to better clarify powers of the ABC from the powers of the local and state police.
Prioritizing ABC’s responsibilities to focus on regulation will also help close the gap between ABC agents and local and campus law enforcement, resulting in a more unified law enforcement.
“There’s emphasis on the ABC working more on enforcing regulation,” Axler said. “That is sort of an indication that its is more local and more campus law enforcement.”
Currently, the provisions are simply recommendations, not mandates. However, the Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security may begin implementing some of the recommendations without the approval of the state legislature, which will meet in January.
“There are maybe some of them we can do without legislative approval, there’s some that would probably require legislative approval,” Coy said. “I can’t say individually which ones are moving forward.”
As for the ABC, it is open to making dramatic changes once the governor and General Assembly review the list of recommendations.
“ABC looks forward to the Governor’s response to the adopted recommendations and will work to implement the Governor’s decisions on these matters, and in accordance with any timeline outlined in his order,” Shaw said.
University students and possible ABC changes
Due to students’ better familiarity with the Charlottesville and University police departments, the recommendation that ABC law enforcement agents develop working relationships with these agencies is perhaps the most pertinent provision to University students.
However, the state legislature will only be mandating recommendations that will change the structure of ABC. Any ABC outreach to student groups would be purely voluntary, according to Axler.
“It’s really important to remember that most of the recommendations are actually internal changes to the ABC, so the ABC can make [the] decision that it wants to do more outreach,” Axler said.
ABC relations with students would require mutual collaboration, Axler said. Since students are more familiar with University Police and Charlottesville Police, ABC interaction with those law enforcement agencies may increase engagement with students.
In meetings with the expert review panel, Axler expressed concerns regarding student knowledge on the differences between local, University and ABC law enforcement.
“You have to look at who are the users of public safety, what do they expect and what makes them the most safe and the most comfortable,” Axler said.
Student centers, like the Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, already provide resources for students to learn about local law enforcement. However, the Gordie Center would still work with ABC to increase student awareness, Gordie Center Director Susan Bruce said.
“Local law enforcement agencies (particularly U.Va. Police) are involved in a great deal of outreach to students on topics including Virginia law, safety promotion and risk reduction,” Bruce said in an email statement. “We would welcome additional outreach from our ABC agents to engage with students.”