Police

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.

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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.

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  1. …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.

    Maybe I’m too much the cynic, but having the power isn’t the same as using it.

    1. Color me skeptical too. The standards will be meaningless and vague, full of exceptions and fuzzy words, and won’t be enforced anyway.

      1. Wonder if this will ever happen to teachers.

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    2. Especially considering that, as seems to be implied, they already have the power but it’s just too darned hard to exercise it when cops are convicted.

      I’m sure the process involved jumping through three flaming hoops before wrestling a live bear and that the reduction to just two flaming hoops before wrestling the bear is more than just a token gesture.

      1. “and that the reduction to just two flaming hoops before wrestling the bear”

        No, not at all. The reform eliminates all three flaming hoops and replaces wrestling a bear with bench pressing an elephant.

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

    Someone needs to explain to me, in clear language, how committing a crime requires “decertification” as an officer. If I try out for the academy, and have no “certification”, if I’ve got criminal convictions, I will be rejected out of hand. Do they not do a background check in Virginia?

    1. I understood it to mean that you went through the academy with a clean record, committed crimes under the color of law, and went to the next department, certification in hand, and got a job as a certified officer of the law.

      Do they not do a background check in Virginia?

      Of course not, these are certified officers of the law.

      1. Yeah, background checks are only necessary when average people want to do something silly like exercise their rights.

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      2. Jesus… if I legally own a firearm, and it’s stolen, and the police recover it, then call me to tell me to come pick it up, I have to go through a background check before the police hand me back my legally owned firearm, because I may have acquired a criminal conviction or become “ineligible” between the time I legally purchased the firearm and the cops hand it back to me. It’s called ‘bracketing’ ffs. They don’t ‘bracket’ the eligibility of police officers? Jesus H Christ.

        1. I see you’re new to the U.S.

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  5. 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.”

    But only police union, not every other public sector union on the planet.

    1. True. But most other public sector union members don’t carry guns, breakdown doors, etc., in the performance of their jobs. So, this is a start.

    2. Pretty sure looking out for the interests of its members is supposed to be the main function of any union.

      1. The problem per se isn’t unions looking out for it’s members interests but the incestuous relation between unions and politicians. This especially becomes an issue with public sectors unions who lobby and give monetary support to the people that they end up negotiating contracts with.

        1. It is everything you say, plus the fact that we are forced to be customers of the organization the union represents. We can’t take our business elsewhere.

          1. That’s the critical part.

        2. And this is magnified in jurisdictions with one party rule.

      2. It is indeed, but as AlbertP noted above, the Autoworker’s Union at GM isn’t kicking down my door or performing other regulatory or legal enforcement actions against me.

        Shorter, I’m not forced to purchase their products by law.

        1. Public sector unions are definitely worse than private unions, however, the rather simplistic argument that the problem is unions representing their members interest is rather sophomoric, actually more pollyannish. Your argument is a better one.

  6. Problem solved!

    Call the papers to trumpet this victory over oppression, and let’s get back to global warming.

  7. Crimes involving serious misconduct in office should be punished by disqualification from office, at least the office you misconducted in. You shouldn’t need a board for this, a court should be able to do it.

    Conversely, serious misconduct in office should be a crime, not an administrative violation, so what’s a board for?

    The problem is getting prosecutors to prosecute. Today the standard is to go after cops if there’s a threat of riots, not to single out the bad apples simply for the sake of justice.

    Of course, sometimes you have a really honest prosecutor, but how often does that happen?

  8. As with gun control measures, you have to ask: Is there a single incident that would have been prevented had these reform measures been in place at the time? I’m going to guess the answer is “No.”

  9. Also, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that this state board that oversees the police is well-stocked with former police officers? Possibly even that a law-enforcement background is required for membership on the board? Most “oversight” boards work that way, from the dental board to the funeral home directors board to the cosmetology board, they’re not oversight boards so much as advocates for the people they’re supposedly regulating.

    1. Trade/professional boards do provide oversight, because their intended purpose is to limit competition in the workplace.

      They’re supposed to be about maintenance of bare standards of conduct and education, but they’re really just a way to increase the cost of entry into a trade/profession under color of a state interest.

      That’s partly why I’m puzzled by this article.

      Reason is ostensibly against state-operated licensing/certification boards because it’s crony capitalism at its worst, a way for the state to limit competition of providers and increase costs for consumers.

      So why is Reason excited about police certifications provided by the state and, now, limited by a state?

      Shouldn’t police departments have to do a diligent inquiry and investigation for each applicant for a job in policing?

      Why shouldn’t a small department be able to train its own residents to operate as police, without an academy certification?

      Seems like Reason has priorities screwed up.

  10. “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. “

    This is why I maintain that there are no good cops. Good cops, people who are sworn to uphold the law, would report officers who do not uphold the law. It’s their duty.

    1. I suggest you read Heather MacDonald’s book “The War on Cops” or watch interviews with her about this subject. She has a lot of knowledge about the police, and fully addresses the issue of corrupt police officers. There’s not many, and those who are are not tolerated or are scorned among their ranks. This is a lecture she delivered at Hillsdale College four years ago:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67Fr-xKukco

    2. Please understand I do respect your opinion. However, based on your statement, the outcome you’d like (as much as I may agree with it) doesn’t take into account the vast amount of variables or context when it comes to police work and police culture overall too.

  11. Among the many different police reform payments handed by the Virginia legislature had been provisions that permit native governments to determine civilian overview boards and bar police from initiating a visitors cease search in the event that they allegedly scent marijuana—one of the vital infamous and subjective strategies that police use to determine possible trigger for a search.

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