Make It Easier to Remove Bad Cops

by James A. Bacon

The overwhelming majority of Virginia policemen and deputies are good people doing a creditable job under often-trying circumstances. But not all. Every profession has its bad apples. And in Virginia, state law makes it impossible to strip officers of their certification unless they have been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. Even then, some manage to stay on the job.

The Virginian-Pilot provides a list of convicted criminals who still have police certifications. including:

  • A former Hampton detective who pleaded guilty in federal court to providing a local drug dealer with information while working as a narcotics detective.
  • A former Henrico County sheriff’s deputy who pleaded guilty to having a sexual relationship with an inmate.
  • A former school resource officer in Bedford County who was initially charged with abducting a teenage girl and taking her to Kentucky. He pleaded guilty to five counts of indecent liberties with a minor.
  • A Dinwiddie sheriff’s deputy who was found guilty of assault and battery after he pulled over his ex-fiancé and forced her to the ground and pepper sprayed her.

A bill drafted by Mamie Locke, D-Hampton and Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, would broaden the criteria for decertification. The proposal would give the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) responsibility for setting state-wide standards for police, and give the board the power to decertify officers who violate those standards.

A long-standing problem is that officers may resign or get fired from one department and find a job elsewhere without repercussions for their misconduct, says the Pilot. The state Fraternal order of Police also supports legislation proposed by the Chiefs of Police Association that would prevent officers from jumping from department to department. Smaller departments often lack the resources to do careful background checks.

Bacon’s bottom line: Many of the law-enforcement reform proposals emanating from Democrats this summer are of dubious benefit. But weeding out the bad cops is an idea that everyone can get behind. There the usual turf issues involved here. Who should have the ultimate power to decertify an officer: police chiefs and sheriffs or the DCJS? Hopefully, those differences can be worked out. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to improve the quality of law enforcement in Virginia.

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