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Virginia lawmakers discuss addressing police training, mandatory minimums

Posted at 2:00 PM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 14:00:45-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- In the second of three public hearings to discuss criminal justice and police reform, criminal justice officials and reform advocates addressed delegates virtually at the Capitol Wednesday.

The meeting focused on police training and mandatory minimums in Virginia.

In regards to those mandatory minimums, delegates heard from Ashely Nellis with the Sentencing Project, among others.

According to Nellis, evidence shows mandatory minimums do little to deter crime and have instead led to an unfair justice system in the Commonwealth, exasperating racial disparities and bloating the prison system.

Nellis argued Virginia has far too many mandatory minimums -- with 40 of the 200 of them related to drug crimes.

As for police training, delegates heard from Shannon Dion with the Department of Criminal Justice Services, who said a comprehensive review of training has not been completed in more than 20 years.

She said the Department of Criminal Justice Services has facilitated meetings with SME's and the CRC to draft revised standards especially in the areas of de-escalation, bias-based policing, and responding to persons in crisis.

Dion said the original goal was to have this completed by March 2021, but due to delays relating to COVID-19, she estimates it may not be completed until July or August of 2021.

Majority Leader Charniele Herring said it's evident change needs to happen -- and soon.

"I thank you, Miss Dion for your work in helping us change the way we are training our police officers," said Herring.

"Because what I saw, as Charniele speaking independently, is a state trooper harass a citizen. And for any of us to sit here and be quiet and say that everything is okay -- I suggest that we need to take out heads out of the sand."

More discussion from officials as well as from the public was scheduled to follow.

The hearing came ahead of a Special General Assembly Session in August, and the regular 2021 session.