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Fairfax Delegate Chairs Committee That Would Withhold Police Officers’ Identities

The Virginia Senate recently approved Senate Bill 552 that would exempt the mandatory disclosure of police and fire marshals by classifying that information as personnel records. The Virginia House will take up the bill at a later date.

Other states such as Oregon and Pennsylvania have laws on the books withholding names of officers involved in fatal shootings while investigations are conducted. However, the proposed Virginia legislation would classify all police officers’ names from disclosure.

Legislators and police officials favor the move in the wake of several high profile police slayings. Critics argue the bill would steer Virginia towards a police state by making officers unaccountable to the people.

List of Virginia law enforcement exempt from name disclosure

The proposed legislation would exempt the following classes of law enforcement from having their names disclosed in freedom of information requests:

  • State or local police departments or sheriff’s offices
  • Special agents of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
  • Officers of the Virginia Marine Police
  • Conservation police officers of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
  • Investigators of the security division of the Virginia Lottery
  • Conservation officers of the Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • Members of the enforcement division of the Department of Motor Vehicles

Codifying standard practice

Virginia police departments may already withhold or disclose officers’ names. The bill would essentially put into law what many departments already practice.

Police departments often withhold names of undercover officers or those involved in internal affairs investigations. In any case, discretion currently remains with individual police chiefs.

Senate Bill 552 was opposed by one state lawmaker from Fairfax, State Sen. Chap Petersen, who believes withholding names of officers could lead to police corruption. However, since the bill’s passing in the State Senate, it now rests in a subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee chaired by another Fairfax lawmaker, Del. James M. LeMunyon.

LeMunyon has not publicly voiced his opinion one way or another on the issue. He did explain to reporters the bill, if passed in the subcommittee, would be heard again in full committee and possibly the full House of Delegates.

How would the law affect Virginia criminal prosecutions?

Detractors of the proposed legislation suggest having access to police names would help track problem officers who may be transferred or who seek employment with other jurisdictions. Citizens may wonder how keeping police names secret serves to further trust between police and the public.

Having access to this kind of information may be crucial to helping defendants point out flawed or malicious prosecution. Furthermore, while keeping the men and women who protect us safe is an extremely noble endeavor, identifying police with problem pasts may also help to protect citizens themselves.

Virginia criminal defense attorneys in Leesburg

As a law firm that regularly defends the rights of defendants charged with criminal offenses in Virginia, the law office of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy, PC will keep a close eye on the bill as it may impact the legal rights of defendants in Virginia. If you are charged with a criminal offense in Virginia and need legal representation, contact our office for a consultation about your case.

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