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Limited Police Reforms Head to Governor’s Desk

protesters
People protesting for police reform have demanded everything from abolition of police to big, structural changes. Bills passed by the General Assembly fall short of those demands. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Several key criminal justice and police reform bills are now headed to the governor’s desk while others remain in negotiations between the House and Senate.  

A bill that would have made it a felony for police officers to use a neck restraint, like the one used on George Floyd, passed the House last month on a 55-43 vote. But the Senate, on Wednesday, rejected the all-out ban. The Senate substitute removed any criminal penalties from the measure and permits officers to use a chokehold whenever it is necessary to protect an officer or another person. 

“That is very broad and very subjective and pretty much undermines the prohibition against using the chokehold,” said Del. Jennifer Carol Foy, who introduced the House bill.

The bill is now headed to the governor for his signature.

Another measure that won final passage in the House and Senate bans police searches based on the smell of marijuana. It also prohibits police from pulling someone over for some minor infractions. 

“There's a disproportion number of people of color, that are pulled over for these very non- serious crimes, these nine serious offenses,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), who introduced the House version of the bill. They tend to be people of color, and they escalate and things and bad things can happen quickly.”

Dana Schrad, Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police said her organizations has several concerns about this bill. 

“The most critical on the list is the inability of law enforcement to stop a vehicle without its taillights or brake lights operational,” Schrad said. And there is no acknowledgment of the safety risk that presents at nighttime to other drivers. The officer would have to stop the vehicle for another primary law violation if there is one.”

Several high-profile bills that are still being negotiated among the two chambers include a measure to implement a statewide (MARCUS) Alert System, which would send mental health service providers to accompany police officers responding to 911 calls. 

And both chambers are still hashing out the details of a proposal to establish local civilian review boards with the authority to investigate citizen complaints and take disciplinary action against police officers. The House and Senate differ on whether the review panels should be mandatory.