Senate Democrat Promises on Police Reform

By Steve Haner

What follows, without edits, is the full list of legislative proposals now endorsed by the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus. With 21 members, if they all show up and vote aye on all of these, they pass in the upcoming special session. Bills would then have to also pass the House of Delegates and be signed by the Governor. This follows up an earlier post by Dick Hall-Sizemore.

  1.  Bringing Equity to Virginia Policing
    ● Prohibit No Knock Warrants (Breonna Taylor)
    ● Ban Sex With Individuals Arrested by Law Enforcement
    ● Prohibit Hiring of Officers Fired or Resigned During Use of Force Investigations
    ● Create a Decertification Procedure for Law Enforcement Officers
    ● Ban chokeholds and strangleholds (George Floyd)
    ● Require Attempts at De-escalation Prior to Use of Force
    ● Require Warnings Before Shots Fired
    ● Require Law Enforcement to Exhaust All Other Means Prior to Shooting
    ● Create Duty to Intervene by Fellow Law Enforcement Officers
    ● Prohibit Shooting at Moving Motor Vehicles
    ● Require Departments to Create a Use of Force Continuum
    ● Require Comprehensive Reporting by All Law Enforcement Agencies Including Use of Force Data
    ● Defelonize Assault on Law Enforcement Officer (Return to Misdemeanor Offense)
    ● Cancel HB599 Funding (Virginia supplemental funding for local police departments) After Local Police Have Disproportionate Use of Force Incidents In their Jurisdiction
  2. Expand Local Authority to Respond to Mental Health and Regulate Law Enforcement
    ● Create Local Authority for a Marcus Alert System – System to Report Acute Mental Health Crises
    ● Create Local Option for Citizen Review Board Empowered to Investigate, Fire and/or Discipline Officers
  3. Restore Courts’ and Prosecutors’ Flexibility to Effect Mercy
    ● Confirm Prosecutors’ Authority to Drop Charges
    ● Enhance Courts’ Ability to Expunge Charges for Dismissed Charges, Substance Convictions and Pardoned Offenses
  4. Reduce Racial Profiling Opportunities for Law Enforcement
    ● Prohibit Searches of Person or Vehicle Based on Odor of Marijuana Without Probable Cause for Other Offenses
    ● Prohibit Stops for Equipment Violations Not Covered by State Vehicle Inspection
    ● Secondary Offense For Dangling Objects, Extinguished Tag Light, Tinted Windows or Loud Exhaust
  5. Restore Equity to the Sentencing Process
    ● Jury Sentencing Only at Option of the Accused
    ● Eliminate Commonwealth’s Right to Demand Jury Trial When Jury Trials Suspended for State of Emergency
    ● Require Agencies to Determine Cost Savings for Introduced Criminal Justice Legislation
  6. Restore Equity to the Virginia Prison System
    ● Allow Earned Sentence Credit for Good Behavior During Prison
    ● Create Discretion for Compassionate Release for Terminally Ill or Permanently Disabled Prisoners

The closest it comes to “defunding” police is the proposal to withhold state monies in a particular revenue sharing formula from a local agency with “disproportionate use of force incidents,” a metric not defined in the news release but likely to be the battleground in any bill. Would any agency with incidents above the state median lose funds? Disproportionate to the racial makeup local population?

Some popular proposals – the use of mental health professionals on certain calls and police review panels – are listed simply as local options. Perhaps that was necessary to get all 21 caucus members to sign.

If there is not already a process for removing state certification from a law enforcement officer who has exhibited bad behavior, there certainly needs to be.  I would have assumed what could be granted could be revoked. The Department of Criminal Justice Services may then become the focus of regular complaints from unhappy citizens, just as other state agencies deal with contractor or health code issues.

I assume they mean prohibiting an officer from shooting at a moving vehicle, since the rest of us are already covered by such laws. Requiring warnings or exhaustion of “all other means” prior to discharging a weapon sound great in theory, but how many rounds does the bad guy get for free? Lowering the punishment for assaulting a policeman is going to be a hot vote in a future election, especially if you are voting at the same time to punish cops.

And, of course, the list gets way past controversial police behavior and into the courts and corrections system, bringing up previously rejected ideas such as not allowing juries to recommend sentences, and offering additional paths to shorter time incarcerated.

As I have noted before, this is not my wheelhouse. Others who comment regularly have deeper experience and understanding. Let the games begin.