Herring proposes policing, criminal justice reforms

WTOP – Virginia Attorney Gen. Mark Herring is pressuring state lawmakers to mandate body-worn cameras on all law enforcement officers, and to ban the rehiring of officers who were fired or resigned for misconduct.

Herring has laid out his priorities for criminal justice and policing reforms ahead of the Virginia General Assembly’s special session, scheduled to begin on Aug. 18.

“Virginia cannot have different systems and standards of justice depending on the color of a person’s skin,” Herring said.

“We know that African Americans and Virginians of color experience the criminal justice system differently at every level, from policing through prosecution and into reentry.”

In the aftermath of nationwide and D.C. region protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, Herring said, “This moment has given us an opportunity like none I can recall in my lifetime to truly focus on how we create a criminal justice system that meets our public safety goals in a way that ensures justice and equality for all.”

During the special session, Herring will support a bill that would allow his office to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify use of excessive force, illegal searches and biased policing.

Herring said the U.S. Department of Justice has “explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool.”

Other bills would modernize and standardize police training, to include mandatory training on implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation and hate crimes.

Herring said he would support bills to expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions, as well as establish a robust database of officer discipline, terminations and decertification.

The attorney general would support a ban of rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force.

“No law enforcement officer should be able to hide behind a resignation to avoid accountability,” Herring said.

“They should not be able to conceal that information from a department or simply switch departments and continue their career.”

Herring would also support cash bail reform as part of a broader prosecutor reform to deal with systemic racism.

In cash bail’s current form, Herring said: “Dangerous people with money can go free while nonviolent people sit in jail for days, weeks or months because they can’t afford to pay bail.”

Herring would favor expanding opportunities for expunging a person’s criminal record and simplifying the process.

He also would move toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis, noting that in recent years almost half of all people arrested for first offense marijuana possession were Black, despite representing just 20% of Virginia’s population.