Virginia police should not fear more accountability

The Washington Post

The Virginia General Assembly passed a slew of criminal justice reforms last year addressing policing, sentencing and parole. This session, a fight from the 2020 special session is reemerging over proposals to allow victims of police misconduct to sue for civil damages. Police unions and sheriffs are signaling opposition. But as a former police officer who now studies policing and crime, I think that opposition is misguided.

In March, new laws will take effect that put limits on the use of deadly force by police officers in the commonwealth. The laws also bar certain dangerous policing tactics — the neck restraints that killed George Floyd, firing into or out of moving vehicles and using rubber bullets — without a compelling and immediate need to protect an officer or bystander from serious harm. These laws bring Virginia in line with other states that have tried to get more specific about the permissible use of deadly force by police, and many of these provisions passed with bipartisan or even unanimous support.

One of the most pressing challenges facing police today is the increasing divide between officers and the communities they are meant to serve. It may be that there is blame to go around on both sides of this divide. But the mere fact that this divide exists (and is growing) is a huge blow to the effectiveness of law enforcement, especially in high-crime areas and among vulnerable communities.

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