CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Chesterfield Police Chief Col. Jeffrey Katz said aspects of the criminal justice system are not working for the people.
"Transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system should extend throughout the entire system," Col. Katz said. "When the system isn't working for people, it's time to stop and take a look at that and make adjustments."
He is referring to recent changes in Virginia law surrounding granting bail to those arrested for crimes.
In February 2022, a man charged with killing his son and keeping the child's body in a freezer was released from jail on bond before his trial. That man, Kass Weaver, was also accused of abusing his wife.
The judge's decision to release Weaver stunned some people in the community and blindsided Chesterfield Police.
"We're disappointed. I've got detectives whose lives, the trajectory of their lives were changed forever because they handled that case," Katz said. "I have forensic analysts who cared with great compassion for the remains of that young man and attended the autopsy and removed that freezer."
While Katz said he was surprised by Weaver's release, he said it was not an isolated incident.
"Why should we have to lock up the same person five, six, seven, eight times, because the system keeps kicking them back out on the streets to revictimize society," he said.
Katz said one problem was a new Virginia law — Senate Bill 1266. The law ended so-called presumptions against bail in Virginia.
The bill's sponsor, Senator Creigh Deeds (D - Nelson County), said he wrote the bill because too many Virginians were being unfairly denied bail.
"The result of that has been that you've had overcrowding of jails. You've had too many people in jail pre-trial before they're proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Deeds said at the General Assembly. The bill passed along party lines and was signed into law by then-Governor Ralph Northam.
The result essentially required judges to grant bail unless they deemed someone to be a danger to the public or themselves or a flight risk.
"The system itself is supposed to protect victims," Katz said.
He mentioned a situation where a driver got into a fight with officers who were chasing him.
"Our people were put at risk, they made an arrest and the person was released before the officer was able to go back to his patrol area. That's unconscionable," Katz said.
Not everyone agrees that the new law is to blame.
"There's been fear-mongering around public safety around this law in certain circles," Wyatt Rolla, with the Legal Aid Justice Center said.
The center worked to get Deeds' bill passed and continues to support the law.
"Our system is founded on the presumption of innocence," Rolla said. "Nothing in this law mandates that people are being released. What the repeal did say is that pre-trial release is now determined by the people who our system trusts to make those decisions every day, judges and magistrates."
Rolla cited studies that showed holding people before their trial makes society less safe.
"There was a recent study out from Kentucky that analyzed 1.6 million cases. It found that detaining someone pre-trial for any length of time is associated with a higher likelihood of that person being arrested again before their trial," Rolla said.
Rolla said the justice center worked closely with domestic violence advocates and others on this new law to determine what factors judges have to consider when making a bail decision.
It's a discussion that Katz said he would have liked to have been involved with.
"The problem is that over the last couple of years, law enforcement really hasn't been invited to the table to have those discussions, so we start instituting reforms that when they got put there, they don't work," Katz said.
Katz said it was time for people on all sides of the justice reform debate to put their egos aside and try to work for the benefit of the community.
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