Virginia Senate Passes Omnibus Police Reform Bill
FAIR Take | September 2020
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread riots, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) called state legislators back to the Capitol on July 18 for a special session to address budget concerns and police reform. The special session convened on August 18 and remains ongoing.
During the special session, Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 5030, a 17-page omnibus police reform bill. This legislation was praised as “landmark legislation” by Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) for all the new restrictions and oversight it imposes on law-enforcement agencies and their officers.
However, the bill’s opponents have repeatedly pointed out that these measures will likely weaken law enforcement efforts by giving them less room for error or discretion. “We’ve got to give them the ability to exercise some judgement or make a mistake,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham). If enacted, these sweeping changes will probably shield many more criminal aliens across Virginia, something that may or may not be an unintended consequence of the bill.
SB 5030 needlessly hampers law enforcement agents by subjecting officers and localities to a largely unelected, unaccountable, expanded and dramatically empowered Criminal Justice Services Board. The newly expanded and empowered Board will give excessive influence to unaccountable advocacy organizations and their policy agendas, which includes open borders and mass immigration.
Moreover, it will allow “civil rights organizations” and “community-based organizations,”— which is not defined in the legislation — to have appointed members on the Board to refashion law enforcement objectives, procedures, training, certification and decertification. Any law enforcement officer or agency not abiding by the Board’s tenets could become a target, especially since the Board is empowered to essentially expand its own jurisdiction without further legislative input by defining “serious misconduct” however it chooses, without any apparent limitation.
Finally, the bill empowers the Board to take punitive action against “bias” in policing principles. The intent of so-called “bias-free policing” is to ensure that no individual suffers discrimination. While this policy sounds innocuous, it could easily be implemented to tie the hands of law enforcement and shield criminal aliens from arrest. Open-borders advocates push the adoption of bias-free policing to “boost community trust” for illegal aliens. It is implemented under the guise that those in the country illegally will not feel comfortable reporting crimes or acting as witnesses to a crime.
However, a 2018 FAIR report shows this is a myth, as there is no documented evidence that any illegal alien has ever been deported solely as a result of reporting a crime or volunteering information to the police. Actually, the exact opposite is true as there are several special visas available to those in the country illegally who help law enforcement attain the conviction of a criminal alien.
FAIR submitted written testimony to the Senate opposing SB 5030 for these reasons. However, it was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 18, out of the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee on September 3, and passed the full Senate by a vote of 21-19 on September 9. All of these votes were entirely on party lines with Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans opposing.
SB 5030 now heads to the House of Delegates. It is likely the more radical House may offer amendments to SB 5030 which will go beyond what the more moderate Senate will likely support. If the legislature does end up passing the omnibus police reform bill, Governor Northam will likely sign it into law.