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Easing new limits on police powers, Virginia is cracking back down on noisy cars

‘It’s gotten ridiculous’
A police car in Richmond, Va.
A police car in Richmond, Va.(Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury)
Published: Apr. 2, 2022 at 11:30 AM EDT
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As someone who once lived near the Richmond Raceway, Robin Mines says she’s familiar with the sound of loud, fast cars. She didn’t expect to have to endure similar noises miles away in her current South Richmond neighborhood, where she says elderly people, children and veterans with PTSD are being rattled late at night by revved-up engines, intentionally loud exhaust systems and people driving “like they’re on a drag strip.”

“It’s gotten ridiculous, said Mines, a pastor who serves as president of the Swansboro West Civic Association, which represents a neighborhood tucked between two major roads, Hull Street Road and Midlothian Turnpike.

When Mines asked the Richmond Police to do something about the noise, she says they told her their hands were tied due to a new state law that restricted law enforcement’s ability to initiate traffic stops over equipment issues.

Democratic lawmakers approved that change in 2020 as part of the post-George Floyd push for police reform, presenting it as a way to reduce racial disparities in traffic enforcement by preventing police from using minor vehicle defects as a reason to question or search drivers they believe to be suspicious.

When Mines learned police could no longer stop vehicles for noise alone, she and other neighborhood leaders approached Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, about a possible fix. Despite some Democrats’ concerns about re-opening the door to racially biased enforcement, the General Assembly sent legislation to Gov. Glenn Youngkin that would restore police officers’ power to stop vehicles over excessive noise.

Mines said she hopes police won’t use those powers as “a weapon to go after people they don’t like.” But she rejected the notion there was something racially problematic about the bill, noting it wasn’t just White people who pushed for the 1994 federal crime bill now widely criticized as contributing to the overpolicing of minority neighborhoods.

“It was Black people too because our neighborhoods were going to hell,” she said. “We can’t keep bending rules and letting our neighborhoods go down because we’re feeling sorry for somebody who can’t follow the rules like the rest of us.”

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

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