Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the number of training hours for Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office recruits. The sheriff’s office says recruits receive 17 weeks of training and a minimum of 680 training hours.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Newly approved amendments to Virginia Beach city code that expand authority for sheriff’s deputies, at least in writing, have some raising concerns about accountability.
Sheriff’s deputies are notably not under the oversight of law enforcement civilian oversight bodies under state code. Virginia Beach’s, which is still under development, was granted subpoena powers to investigate alleged police misconduct months after Donovon Lynch was shot and killed by a VBPD officer in 2021.
The city codes changed Tuesday night (5-531, 21-303, 23-7.1, 23-7.5 and 27-7) are for non-felony offenses and previously granted enforcement authority only to “police officers.” One of those deals with requiring a citizen to show identification based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
The amendments adopted Tuesday change that wording from “police officers” to “law enforcement officers” after a request from Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, who first proposed them last January.
Stolle says the changes would make Virginia Beach code consistent with state code, which uses “law enforcement officer.”
“The City Council voted to merely clean up city code to accurately reflect state code, and other city codes which also state “law enforcement officer,” said VBSP Public Information Office Toni Guagenti in a follow up email clarifying the change. “These changes in no way expanded authority to sheriff’s deputies already granted under state code.”
The amendments, item No. 5 on the council’s agenda, passed by a 5-4 vote (councilmembers Remick, Rouse, Taylor and Wooten voted no and councilmembers Holcomb and Berlucchi were absent) after about an hour of discussion and input from Stolle and Police Chief Paul Neudigate, who also supported the matter.
A related ordinance modifying the sheriff’s office and police department’s mutual aid agreement passed with a 6-3 vote (Remick, Rouse and Wooten voted no).
This comes as the police department has seen increased cooperation and reliance on the sheriff’s department to supplement staffing in places such as the Oceanfront. Typically sheriff’s deputies duties in Virginia Beach are focused on the jail and providing security at court.
Stolle first requested the amendments at the beginning of last year, telling city council on January 4 that they didn’t add additional authority and were only meant to “clean up” the way the code was worded.
“This doesn’t add any arrest ability to what we do now, I can make all these arrests now and doesn’t have any impact on that ability at all … this is not about race, not about a power grab or anything like this, it doesn’t matter to me if you do it or not,” Stolle said. “It’s not going to change a damn thing I do.”
That explanation led to confusion and some asking what motivated the changes.
“I have to ask, what problem is this amendment trying to solve for the good of the public? What is enumerated here is giving pretextual circumstances for law enforcement personnel supporting the department in ad hoc status to engage in situations out of the scope of their training and mandate while assisting the police department,” said Sean Monteiro, a Democrat running for the 96th District House of Delegates seat. “Which could quickly escalate, leading to bad results, and increased liability to the city.”
Former Virginia Beach NAACP president Carl Wright, who also opposed the changes Tuesday, echoed concerns about the gap in training hours and liability risk.
Stolle says the changes were needed in connection to the city’s mutual aid agreement with the Virginia Beach Police Department. For example, deputies are called in for staffing assistance at the Oceanfront during the summer months and for events. Neudigate says that helps keep sworn officers in other areas of the city instead of having to go help with crowd control and traffic enforcement.
Stolle added that the agreement currently “saves the city a lot of money.”
“They’d have to hire a hundred police officers to fill the spots we’re filling in,” Stolle said.
Neudigate added that up to 50 to 60 deputies that help each night on weekends in the summer months. He also notably said that the deputies don’t have body cameras. Current practices instead rely on pairing up a deputy with a VBPD officer, who would have a camera.
Stolle says “we’re in the process of arranging [procurement of body cameras] right now” and “we need to get them all right now.”
Back to the vote on the amendments, Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten said before voting no that training disparities still need to be addressed after first being brought up in early 2022. She also said deputies need to be able to be held accountable under the city’s Independent Citizen Review Board, something that wasn’t included in the mutual aid agreement. Virginia state law would need to be changed for that to be included.
“Accountability. that’s huge. Oversight, that’s huge. I appreciate the sheriff saying they can go through the process of the ICRB. That’s great, let’s see that in writing … let’s make sure that that’s going to take place and happen if we’re going to do this the right way … the citizens asked for accountability and oversight.”
Before the vote on the amendments, Councilwoman Wooten asked for a delay to address concerns and to get more citizen input, but the vote failed.