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Youngkin administration delays rules meant to root out bad cops

Photo Courtesy - VPM News
Photo Courtesy - VPM News

In 2020, Virginia lawmakers worked with law enforcement groups to pass new rules aimed at decertifying police officers facing allegations of misconduct. But three years later, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration has prevented key parts of the law from going into effect — a move a top Democrat said is in clear violation of the law.

Before 2020, officers could  only be decertified after being convicted of felonies or certain misdemeanors, or for refusing a drug test. Even those rules  sometimes went unenforced.

Thi story was reported and written by VPM News

The law passed by Democrats in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder said officers could also be decertified if they were fired or resigned for on-the-job actions that “compromises an officer's credibility, integrity, honesty, or other characteristics.”

In addition the new law, which went into effect March 1, 2021, said officers would be fired if they didn’t follow to-be-determined statewide standards. A workgroup that included representatives from law enforcement as well as criminal justice advocates went on to develop those  policies. It took the work group nine months to reach consensus on the standards, which were passed by the Criminal Justice Services Board in June 2022, five months after Youngkin’s inauguration.

The  proposed standards require officers to “treat all individuals with dignity and respect” and “uphold the public trust.” The proposal spells out types of misconduct that can lead to desertification, including making false arrest, tampering with evidence or a witness, or engaging in a sexual relationship with someone in custody.

But the regulation — and several others related to law enforcement training and accountability — has  spent the last 465 days under review of Youngkin’s secretary of public safety, Terrance Cole, even though law required the standards to be passed within 280 days of the law going into effect. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell (D–Fairfax), who helped write the law, urged Youngkin to move the regulations forward immediately.

“The administration right now is very exposed to litigation because of this, because they're not following the law,” Surovell said in an interview Thursday.

Youngkin’s spokesperson, Macaulay Porter, did not answer specific questions about the delay but said some regulations are under review for “compliance with statute and application statewide.”

Increased decertifications

Even without the new standards, law enforcement agencies appear to be using the section of law relating to honesty and integrity.

A total of 83 officers and jail staff were decertified between 1999 and when the new law went into effect in March 2021,  according to The Associated Press.

An additional 118 people were decertified through February 2023, according to Department of Criminal Justice Services data  published by the law enforcement watchdog group OpenOversightVA. The majority of those were decertified for “untruthful statements” during internal affairs investigations.

Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said Cole’s predecessor, Bob Mosier, brought together law enforcement groups to discuss revisions to the standards.

In an email, Schrad said the regulations were now “out of our hands,” but said “it will be helpful to have those standards in place to better facilitate decertification determinations and appeals.”

Wheeler takes the reins

In July 2022, Youngkin appointed Andrew Wheeler, former President Donald Trump’s  controversial chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, to head the new Office of Regulatory Management with a  mandate to cut regulations and make the process more transparent and efficient.

“Historically it took over 200 days for a regulation to be reviewed by the Governor’s office, we now have that review period down to less than two weeks,” Wheeler said in a December 2022  press release.

But that hasn’t always proved true. Some regulations — particularly ones related to criminal justice reforms passed in 2020 — have stalled with Youngkin or his Cabinet for years. They include policies related to minimum training standards for  law enforcement and  prison staff, as well as  proposed fee increases DCJS charges private security firms.

At a meeting of the state board overseeing private security firms on Wednesday, DJCS Regulatory Coordinator Kristi Shalton provided one explanation for the delays.

“If they came out of the Northam administration, what we're seeing is everything is basically sitting right now,” Shalton said. “They don't want to kind of sign off on anything that came from a previous administration, and that happens sometimes.”