Data: Nearly 30% of all banned Virginia police officers were decertified in 2021 under new law

Virginia

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Officer misconduct has been tough to police in Virginia for decades.

Until this year, only three bad behaviors could disqualify officers from law enforcement in the Commonwealth: conviction of a felony or certain misdemeanor crimes, a failed drug test, or not keeping up with certification training.

With those standards in place, 82 officers were decertified — or banned from policing — in Virginia between 1999 and 2020. The Department of Criminal Justice Services provided 10 On Your Side with their decertification data, which goes back to 1999.

Other types of misconduct, like using excessive force, lying in a court case, or being untruthful during an internal investigation, were fireable, but not written into Virginia law as behaviors that could strip an officer of their badge.

As a result, officers with histories of ethical misconduct could resign from one Virginia police department and get hired by another with no repercussions.

“They could still keep their jobs, and those kinds of behaviors would be one incident, two incidents, three incidents, and they would keep piling up, and nothing would ever happen to that individual,” said Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton). “They would maintain their position. They could go from one department to another department.”

That’s why Locke proposed a piece of legislation to expand decertifiable offenses to include dishonesty and excessive force. It was passed by the Virginia General Assembly and went into effect on March 1.

“[Law enforcement supervisors] felt their hands were tied in many cases where they couldn’t do anything,” Locke said. “Now they have the ability to do investigations and to actually get rid of individuals who should no longer be in law enforcement.”

As a result of the new law, more than 30 police officers have been decertified in 2021 — many for lying during internal investigations. Those officers make up nearly 30% of all police who have been decertified in Virginia in 22 years.

Chesapeake Police Chief Kelvin Wright sits on the Criminal Justice Services Board, which is involved in decertification hearings. He said that he’s in full support of the expanded decertification law and believes that it will ultimately make for stronger police departments in Virginia.

“I think this was a dramatic, warranted change in law enforcement,” Wright said.

Officers who are decertified can appeal the board’s decision, and if approved, get their certification back. Of the 34 officers decertified under the new law in 2021, only two have had their certification reinstated.

“I think what the [Virginia] General Assembly has done is the right thing. We’ve been advocating for this for years, and I think that this is the right thing to do for all the right reasons,” Wright said. “I suspect that it will send the right message through the ranks of law enforcement about how important it is that they are truthful in their dealings, and therefore if they are found to have breached that law, that certification, it’s gone.”

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