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How George Floyd's murder has changed policing in Virginia

George Floyd
Posted at 10:10 PM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 16:02:27-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- On the anniversary of George Floyd's murder, local leaders said progress in police reform had been made but more work needed to be done, while a Virginia police organization said new police reform legislation was creating a chaotic environment for law enforcement.

Lawrence West, Founder of Black Lives Matter Richmond Virginia, said he still remembered how he felt watching the tape one year ago.

"Just a lot of frustration, a lot of hurt," said West. "You see a man dying on the screen and knowing it's not a movie but it's real life."

Months later, Governor Northam would go on to sign multiple new laws to reform policing in the Commonwealth, including laws banning chokeholds and the creation of the Marcus Alert System.

"I think there's been some first steps," said Lawrence.

But other controversial reform legislation, like ending qualified immunity, was voted down in the Virginia General Assembly in September.

As for civilian review boards, lawmakers set the framework for allowing investigative citizen review boards to oversee and review police complaints but didn't give guidance on how it would play out. And it's been a mixed bag.

"We hit a snag, couldn't get three people to support, so I pulled it," said Tyrone Nelson with the Henrico Board of Supervisors.

Nelson began pushing for a civilian review board back in June. Just one week after George Floyd's murder. But after a five-month conversation, the proposal fell through when Nelson said leaders couldn't agree on the authority the review board would have.

"They couldn't call witnesses, they couldn't dig deeper, they were only able to use what was given to them by the police. And you know, that's pretty much a neutered board before we even get started," Nelson said

Nelson believed unless the General Assembly passed legislation making citizen investigative review boards mandatory, localities would continue to wrestle with these roadblocks.

"The review boards are really about transparency and accountability and that's why I support it," Nelson said.

In the meantime, Dana Shrad, Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said morale among the police force was low.

"We’ve had a barrage of legislation pushed through very quickly and haven’t had the opportunity to be at the table with the decision-makers," said Shrad.

She said the VACP was conducting a survey of Virginia police chiefs and, so far, had found more than 90 percent said they would leave the profession if qualified immunity were eliminated.

She added that much of the police reform legislation passed was not well thought out without an understanding of the job itself, a factor that's creating a chaotic environment for law enforcement.

"The last thing we want in our profession are bad cops," Shrad said. "It’s just the way in which all of this was done without a lot of good planning, certainly without enough funding, that’s made it difficult to process all of it. It’s like drinking out of a fire hose."