Virginia Governor Passes A Long List Of Police Reforms, Including A Ban On No-Knock Warrants
from the just-forty-nine-states-to-go dept
They’re not screwing around with police reform in Virginia. Plenty of states and cities are reevaluating the way law enforcement money is spent and how agencies operate following nationwide protests against police brutality, but few of these discussions have resulted in solid changes. There’s been more discussion than action. Virginia’s governor is all about action, it would appear. As NBC12 reports, a long list of reforms has been signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam.
Governor Northam has been working closely with legislators on these measures since early summer after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked unrest.
“Too many families, in Virginia and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” Governor Northam said. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. I am grateful to the legislators and advocates who have worked so hard to make this change happen. Virginia is better, more just, and more equitable with these laws on our books.”
The entire list of signed bills can be viewed here, most of which deal with law enforcement issues. Much of what’s included here is surprising — not because it’s groundbreaking, but because it simply didn’t exist before now. It’s hard to believe it’s 2020 and we’re just now getting around to doing things like mandating background checks for law enforcement hires and making it a felony for law enforcement officers to engage in sexual relationships with arrestees and inmates.
But there are plenty of other positive changes — many of which aren’t in place elsewhere in the county. With these passages, Virginia becomes only the third state in the nation to ban no-knock warrants. Another passed bill severely restricts what agencies can obtain through the Defense Department’s 1033 program, forbidding the acquisition of high caliber firearms and weaponized aircraft. (To be fair, no law enforcement agency has ever acquired a “weaponized aircraft,” and it seems unlikely the DoD would approve the transfer of one to local cop shops.)
Also newly enacted are training mandates for new law enforcement officers, including de-escalation techniques and bias awareness. Bad cops will no longer be as shielded from accountability, thanks to changes to the decertification process. The state’s Criminal Justice Services Board — which will now include more diverse viewpoints — has been granted the power to initiate decertification proceedings, something law enforcement agencies seem very hesitant to do themselves.
This will also trickle down to the local level. Cities and towns are now permitted to form their own civilian review boards. And they won’t be completely toothless. They’ll be given the power to issue subpoenas and, more importantly, make binding disciplinary decisions that can’t be overridden by local law enforcement officials. The state’s Attorney General can now initiate lawsuits and pattern/practice investigations into the state’s law enforcement agencies, something it apparently was unable to do previously.
Again, while many of these reforms are welcome and necessary, the depressing flipside is that all of this wasn’t in place prior to this year. Law enforcement agencies in Virginia (and around the nation) have spent decades operating with minimal oversight. The end result is the mess we’ve seen everywhere. Years of zero accountability haven’t given us better cops or better community relationships. It’s given us barrels of apples rotting from inside. Things are slowly starting to turn around. Unfortunately, it’s taken thousands of deaths, billions of dollars in lawsuit settlements, and several months of uninterrupted protests to make legislators understand they can no longer maintain the status quo.