Virginia Passes Bill To Make it Harder for Problem Cops To Jump to New Departments

A local news investigation found three dozen cops who committed crimes but never were decertified.


The Virginia Assembly passed a slate of police reform bills last Friday, including legislation making it easier to decertify police officers—a crucial step in making sure officers fired for serious misconduct can't easily jump to another department.

Under the new legislation, expected to be signed into law by Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a state board that oversees police will create a standard of conduct for officers in the state, and the board will have more power to strip officers of their certification if they commit a crime or violate those standards. 

The bill's passage follows an August Virginian-Pilot investigation that found three dozen officers convicted of crimes since 2011 were never decertified.

In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and national demands for policing reform, cities and states around the country are considering rolling back the broad protections—created and maintained through the intense lobbying of police unions—that make it difficult in many cases to fire rotten cops.

The Baltimore Sun reported last week that a working group of Maryland lawmakers recommended that the state legislature repeal the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights when it reconvenes next year. Maryland was the first state in the nation to pass a "bill of rights" for police in 1974, legislation that would soon be mimicked by many other states. Maryland's current law allows officers to wait five days before speaking with internal affairs investigators and expunges misconduct complaints after a certain period.

The repeal effort will face concerted opposition from police unions, who have successfully scuttled similar efforts elsewhere. The California legislature considered a bill this summer that would have given the state a way to decertify police officers, but pressure from police unions killed it. California currently has no power to permanently strip an officer's badge.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police is suing the city council and mayor to block legislation that would make the police union's collective bargaining process more transparent.

As Reason's Peter Suderman wrote in our October issue on police reform, "That is what police unions do: defend the narrow interests of police as employees, often at the expense of public safety." 

Among the other police reform bills passed by the Virginia legislature were provisions that allow local governments to establish civilian review boards and bar police from initiating a traffic stop search if they allegedly smell marijuana—one of the most notorious and subjective methods that police use to establish probable cause for a search.

However, police groups managed to limit or kill bills they deemed too extreme, such as one creating a statutory duty for officers to report misconduct by other police. 

"At the end of the day, we didn't make out so bad," John Jones, director of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, told the Virginia Mercury.