Virginia Panel to Hold Hearing on Bill That Would Shield Police Identities 

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A House of Delegates subcommittee will hear thoughts from police associations and the public today about a bill that would allow the names of law enforcement officers to be withheld from the public.

The subcommittee could keep the bill alive, kill it or request it be studied by a legislative committee that is in the midst of a three-year examination of the state’s Freedom of Information Act and various exemptions to it.

SB552 would exclude the names of law enforcement personnel and fire marshals from mandatory disclosure by making them part of personnel records. It passed the Senate 25-15 last week.

Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said that everyone wants to protect police officers from real danger, but that the bill before the subcommittee goes too far.

Gastañaga said she believes the impetus for the bill was The Virginian-Pilot’s plan to track police officers who got in trouble in one department and moved to another. The Pilot requested the names and employment history of all law enforcement officers in the state from the Department of Criminal Justice Services to track officer movement.

“I think this bill is a reaction to the reality that we are about to have a public discussion about officers being able to maintain their certification when deemed to be bad actors by their department,” Gastañaga said.

She said the state’s decertification statute is among the weakest in the nation. Police in Virginia can’t be decertified for repeated violations of departmental policies, including for the use of force.

Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, introduced the bill. He has said he worked on it with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. He acknowledged that officers’ names could be secret “under the broadest scope of that bill.”

This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com

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