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Northam Signs Policing, Criminal Justice Reforms Including Ban on No-Knock Warrants

Mamie Locke
Virginia State Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, gestures as she addresses the Senate during the Virginia Senate Special Session in the temporary Senate chambers at the Science Museum of Virginia on Wednesday Aug. 19, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has signed several criminal justice and police reform bills into law. Northam said the new measures “represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.” 

Virginia is now the third state to ban law enforcement from executing no-knock search warrants, like the one used in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by Louisville Police. 

All Virginia police officers will now be subject to minimum statewide training standards which include lessons on racism and the potential for biased profiling, as well as de-escalation. 

They will also be required to intervene when they see a fellow officer using excessive force. 

Northam signed a limited ban on neck restraints, that advocates say didn’t go far enough, as well as a bill that makes it easier to decertify officers for misconduct. 

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery woke Americans to a longstanding problem that has existed for generations—and we know Virginia is not immune,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “These are transformative bills that will make Virginians’ lives better, and I’m so proud to see them signed into law.”

The bills came out of a special session Northam called to redo the state budget, which was upended by the pandemic, and address police reform amid nationwide protests. 

“Today is about progress,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “It’s a new day in Virginia.”

Bills included:

  • House Bill 5099, sponsored by Delegate Aird, prohibits law enforcement officers from seeking or executing a no-knock search warrant. With Governor Northam’s signature, Virginia becomes the third state in the nation to ban no-knock warrants.
  • Senate Bill 5030, sponsored by Senator Locke, an omnibus police reform legislation package, which incorporates a number of critical reform measures passed by the House of Delegates:
  • House Bill 5049, sponsored by Delegate Helmer, reduces the militarization of police by prohibiting law enforcement from obtaining or using specified equipment, including grenades, weaponized aircraft, and high caliber firearms. Governor Northam amended this bill to clarify that law enforcement agencies can seek a waiver to use restricted equipment for search and rescue missions.
  • House Bill 5109, sponsored by Delegate Hope, creates statewide minimum training standards for law enforcement officers, including training on awareness of racism, the potential for biased profiling, and de-escalation techniques. Governor Northam made technical amendments to this bill to align it with Senate Bill 5030.
  • House Bill 5104, sponsored by Delegate Price, mandates law enforcement agencies and jails request the prior employment and disciplinary history of new hires.
  • House Bill 5108, sponsored by Delegate Guzman, expands and diversifies the Criminal Justice Services Board, ensuring that the perspectives of social justice leaders, people of color, and mental health providers are represented in the state’s criminal justice policymaking.
  • House Bill 5051, sponsored by Delegate Simon, strengthens the process by which law enforcement officers can be decertified and allows the Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings.
  • House Bill 5069, sponsored by Delegate Carroll Foy, limits the circumstances in which law enforcement officers can use neck restraints.
  • House Bill 5029, sponsored by Delegate McQuinn, requires law enforcement officers intervene when they witness another officer engaging or attempting to engage in the use of excessive force.
  • House Bill 5045, sponsored by Delegate Delaney, makes it a Class 6 felony for law enforcement officers to “carnally know” someone they have arrested or detained, an inmate, parolee, probationer, pretrial defendant, or post trial offender, if the officer is in a position of authority over such individual.
  • House Bill 5055 and Senate Bill 5035, sponsored by Leader Herring and Senator Hashmi, respectively, which empower localities to create civilian law enforcement review boards. These new laws also permit civilian review boards the authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions.
  • Senate Bill 5014, sponsored by Senator Edwards, which mandates the creation of minimum crisis intervention training standards and requires law enforcement officers to complete crisis intervention training.
Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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