Nick Beltrante is a crusty ol' hoot, and he is a man on a mission.
In 2008, Ashley McIntosh was killed when a police car crashed into her vehicle as she was crossing Richmond Highway. A year later, the police were involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist named David Masters. In both cases, the Fairfax police disclosed very little information about the events. Outraged, Nick formed the Citizens' Coalition for Police Accountability, an organization suggesting that civilians review complaints against the police. The CCPA has a board of directors that meets every month, they’ve got a small budget and they are pretty good at getting press. And they are getting nowhere.
For several years, Nick has communicated constantly with Sharon Bulova, the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, numerous police representatives and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland. As far back as May 13, 2010, Ms. Bulova said in a letter that “there could be a place for some kind of a citizen body that could be a constructive forum for these issues.” The next month, she said that the Board had discussed the concept of a review board with Police Chief Rohrer and that the Chief “agreed to consider a process for community discussion on how such a review mechanism might be structured.”
Almost two years later, not much has happened. The police have not met with the CCPA. And, recently, when Nick wrote again to Ms. Bulova urging action she said that she would forward a copy of his letter to Chief Rohrer and Supervisor Hyland “so that they are aware of this correspondence.” In the meantime, Supervisor Hyland did have a very brief hearing in his Public Safety Committee a while ago and there was some talk about having an auditor review the cases but, again, there has been no substantive movement.
Uh, what is going on here, folks?
Now look, I am not naïve. I have no doubt that the police probably don’t want a curmudgeon like Nick Beltrante looking over their shoulder all the time. I mean, get real, no matter what job you have, would you want another group of people constantly reviewing what you do? Who wants to put up with the almost daily questions, the copying of files, having to go to yet another evening meeting? And, yes, to take the more cynical approach, if you happen to be covering your butt on something, who wants a bunch of nosy citizens overseeing what you do?
On the other hand, Nick may just not be approaching this issue the right way. For example, a “White Paper” produced by his group is subtitled “Abolish the Police State.” I’m sure that one made Chief Rohrer feel all warm and fuzzy inside, huh? So, I can see how the police might be concerned that Nick and his folks would be on a permanent fishing expedition, digging for dirt.
But the bottom line is that the CCPA just wants to start a substantive conversation about the issue and that hasn’t happened yet. Ideally, they would love to have Supervisor Hyland put together a meeting of all the parties. That’s something that the Supervisor Hyland does all the time – he gets antagonists into his conference room and plays referee to sort out the facts to move things in a positive direction. And he is very good at it. That is what Gerry should do at this point. What’s the harm in having a meeting to see if there is any common ground here?
Nick Beltrante is an ordinary citizen who has worked very hard on this serious issue. He at least deserves the courtesy of a meeting with the appropriate parties to air out the matter.