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Police, prosecutor react to new laws to reform policing in Virginia

Posted at 12:22 PM, Oct 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 18:39:09-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Numerous law enforcement agencies as well as a Henrico prosecutor weighed in on a sweeping package of laws aimed at reforming policing and criminal justice in Virginia.

Governor Ralph Northam announced he signed the laws this week before the Thursday midnight deadline.

The new laws include many of the measures protesters in Richmond and around the country have called for since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The measures include a ban on no-knock warrants, expanding the grounds to decertify officers who commit misconduct, and limiting the use of neck restraints.

“Too many families, in Virginia and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” said Northam. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police said in a statement that more work needs to be done regarding police reform.

"The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police supports many measures passed by the legislature, such as accreditation, decertification and enhanced training. We will work with the 2021 General Assembly to further amend the bills approved today to add critical safety measures that were not adopted during the special session," they said in a statement.

Col. Gary Settle, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police, also weighed in on the new legislation.

"State police recognizes the significance of these criminal justice reforms and is supportive of the end goal - to further foster and diversify our training, our workforce, and our longstanding community relationships for the betterment of those we serve and protect," he wrote in a statement.

A Richmond Police spokesperson said the department doesn’t routinely comment on legislation.

Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor believed the law allowing localities to create civilian law enforcement review boards was one of the most important bills to come from the 60-day marathon special session.

“What we see is a more permissive standard not a mandate,” Taylor told CBS 6. “What I hope we will see is localities being confident and courageous and giving the board some type of authority.”

These law also permits civilian review boards the authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions. Taylor said localities should learn from the other jurisdictions that have taken on a civilian review board in the past.

She also applauded the legislation that requires officers to intervene when they witness another officer using excessive force.

“Every profession there is some type ethical responsibilit whether that’s doctors or lawyers. If we see somebody engaging in improper conduct we are supposed to be bringing that person forward,” Taylor stated. “We want to be able to allow officers to know that we are there to support themm so if they do see something they’ve got to say something.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said he supported the reforms.

“The police department that we believe is successful and considered great around the country are those departments who continue to lean into accountability and transparency,” Stoney explained.

Stoney said while the Richmond Police Department is nationally credited, what matters most is local.

“We need a police department, we want a police department that is accredited by our community,” he stated. “We need a police department, the same police department that shows up in the West End that shows up in the East End and Southside, as well.”

Democrats hailed the legislation as long-overdue measures to hold police accountable for their actions. Republicans said some of the new laws will only make it more difficult for police to protect law-abiding citizens.

Northam signed the following bills that reform policing:

  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5030, sponsored by Senator Locke, omnibus police reform legislation, which incorporates a number of critical reform measures passed by the House of Delegates:
  • House Bill 5099, sponsored by Delegate Aird, prohibits law enforcement officers from seeking or executing a no-knock search warrant. With Governor Northam’s signature, Virginia becomes the third state in the nation to ban no-knock warrants.
  • House Bill 5049, sponsored by Delegate Helmer, reduces the militarization of police by prohibiting law enforcement from obtaining or using specified equipment, including grenades, weaponized aircraft, and high caliber firearms. Governor Northam amended this bill to clarify that law enforcement agencies can seek a waiver to use restricted equipment for search and rescue missions.
  • House Bill 5109, sponsored by Delegate Hope, creates statewide minimum training standards for law enforcement officers, including training on awareness of racism, the potential for biased profiling, and de-escalation techniques. Governor Northam made technical amendments to this bill to align it with Senate Bill 5030.
  • House Bill 5104, sponsored by Delegate Price, mandates law enforcement agencies and jails request the prior employment and disciplinary history of new hires.
  • House Bill 5108, sponsored by Delegate Guzman, expands and diversifies the Criminal Justice Services Board, ensuring that the perspectives of social justice leaders, people of color, and mental health providers are represented in the state’s criminal justice policymaking.
  • House Bill 5051, sponsored by Delegate Simon, strengthens the process by which law enforcement officers can be decertified and allows the Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings.
  • House Bill 5069, sponsored by Delegate Carroll Foy, limits the circumstances in which law enforcement officers can use neck restraints.
  • House Bill 5029, sponsored by Delegate McQuinn, requires law enforcement officers intervene when they witness another officer engaging or attempting to engage in the use of excessive force.
  • House Bill 5045, sponsored by Delegate Delaney, makes it a Class 6 felony for law enforcement officers to “carnally know” someone they have arrested or detained, an inmate, parolee, probationer, pretrial defendant, or post trial offender, if the officer is in a position of authority over such individual.
  • Governor Northam signed House Bill 5055 and Senate Bill 5035, sponsored by Leader Herring and Senator Hashmi, respectively, which empower localities to create civilian law enforcement review boards. These new laws also permit civilian review boards the authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions.
  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5014, sponsored by Senator Edwards, which mandates the creation of minimum crisis intervention training standards and requires law enforcement officers complete crisis intervention training.

Northam signed the following criminal justice bills:

  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5018, sponsored by Senator Bell, which allows individuals serving a sentence for certain felony offenses who are terminally ill to petition the Parole Board for conditional release.
  • Governor Northam amended House Bill 5148 and Senate Bill 5034, sponsored by Delegate Scott and Senator Boysko, respectively, which allow for increased earned sentencing credits. The Governor proposed a six-month delay to give the Department of Corrections sufficient time to implement this program.

The Associated Press contributed to this article