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General Assembly Sends Civilian Review Legislation to Governor

Members of the General Assembly are wrapping up their special session.

One bill they’re sending to the governor could create new oversight of law enforcement. 

Governor Ralph Northam is now considering a bill lawmakers approved that would allow local governments to create new civilian review boards to investigate their local police departments. The new boards could have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents and the ability to issue reports on excessive force or abuse of authority.

Kim Rolla of the Legal Aid Justice Center says the lack of a mandate is a feature not a bug. “That this is enabling legislation and not a top-down mandate is a strength of this bill. Meaningful, effective civilian oversight must be community driven and responsive to community priorities.”

The bill does not include sheriff’s offices. But House Majority Charniele Herring says she has a promise from senators that they’ll consider adding sheriffs next year.  “The Senate committed to working on something for sheriffs. It was my view that we should do this all at once and not do law enforcement and then sheriffs later. So we’ve put in a delayed enactment of July 1, 2021 so that we’re coming everyone at the same time.”

The delay gives lawmakers time to reconsider the civilian review of law enforcement again next year, examining the role of sheriff’s offices that serve as the local law enforcement agency for most of Virginia. Sheriffs strongly oppose that idea, arguing voters can exercise civilian review by rejecting them on Election Day.

Lawmakers also sent legislation to the governor limiting the use of chokeholds and military equipment by law enforcement agencies.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.


Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.