Senate Democrats introduce police reform omnibus bill creating officer code of conduct

Senate Democrats introduce police reform omnibus bill creating officer code of conduct
A small group of police officers carrying clubs clashed briefly with protesters before leaving the area on Aug. 11, 2018, in Charlottesville, the anniversary weekend of the deadly white supremacist rally that left one dead and dozens injured. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Senate Democrats unveiled police reform legislation Thursday they hope to adopt during a special session of the General Assembly later this month.

Endorsed by the caucus’ 21-member majority, the 33-page bill proposes a range of new policies from the creation of statewide standards for police officers to a ban on departments obtaining surplus military equipment.

“You’ve heard us talk before about the fact that the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have awoken Americans and Virginians to a longstanding problem that has existed in this country,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, who will patron the bill. “And just because something happened in Minneapolis and Louisville and Georgia does not mean that Virginia is immune from those kinds of activities.”

As a recent example, she cited video of a state trooper telling a Black motorist, “You are going to get your ass whupped,” before violently pulling him from a car.

The legislation includes a range of new rules governing how police officers do their jobs. In addition to banning departments from obtaining surplus military equipment from the federal government, it would require officers to get a judge to approve any warrants executed at night or without knocking and identifying themselves first.

“If you go in someone’s house at night, bad things are more likely to happen and there ought to be special circumstances,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax.

The legislation also calls for the reconfiguration of the Virginia Criminal Justice Services Board to include representatives from civil rights groups and tasks the body with developing a proposed statewide officer code of conduct.

While the content of those standards would largely be developed later, the bill specifies limits on how officers use force by banning the use of neck restraints and limiting the use of deadly force to instances in which an officer or bystander faces the threat of immediate and serious injury, the officer has given a verbal warning and exhausted other alternatives.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.