The House of Delegates passed Delegate Mark Levine’s (D-Arlington) “Good Apples Bill,” which requires law enforcement officers to report acts of wrongdoing committed by other on-duty officers. It also requires officers to render aid if they witness someone suffering a serious bodily injury, and it expands a ban on biased-based profiling to include profiling by sexual orientation. In a vote Wednesday, HB 1948 passed 57-42, with three Republicans joining Democrats to vote for the bill.
“It’s a bill that’s designed to basically have the police police the police,” Levine said in a House Public Safety subcommittee meeting on January 14. “It’s designed to prevent the bad apples from committing misconduct.”
“I get the overall intent of the legislation. Big picture, I don’t think that law enforcement should be discriminating against anyone for any reason, so with that, I’m on board,” Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Broadway) said in the subcommittee meeting.
Wilt continued, “The part that concerns me is the way the bill’s written.” Wilt said the bill relied on subjective judgement.
One section of the bill states, “Any law-enforcement officer as defined in § 9.1-101 on duty who witnesses another person suffering from a serious bodily injury or a life-threatening condition shall render aid, as circumstances objectively permit, to such person.”
Discussion in the subcommittee focused on the meaning of “as circumstances objectively permit.”
Wilt said, “Who’s going to determine how the call’s being made in the heat of the moment, if you will? It’s just open for lawsuits and who’s going to make the call?”
“My fear is the potential for law enforcement to just back away and say, ‘I’m not going to do anything because — it’s the old saying, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.’ There’s just a lot of holes in it,” Wilt said.
Wilt also said he thought the duties described in the bill were already requirement for law enforcement officers.
Levine replied that the requirement to report misconduct was only to report it to a supervisor.
“It’s not in the code, but [already many] contracts between law enforcement and the folks working there require them to render aid, require them to report wrongdoing,” Levine said. “It’s not consistent across the Commonwealth and part of the reason for this bill, frankly is for training so they can say it is the law.”
Virginia Fraternal Order of Police President John Ohrnberger told The Virginia Star he saw no problems with the bill.
“The Virginia Fraternal Order of Police has no objection to HB 1948. Law enforcement across the state of Virginia have been conducting themselves under this type of provision or General Order for years,” Ohrnberger said in an email. “Our agencies all have a form of general orders or procedures that are explicit regarding such incidents that are considered a part of an internal investigation.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Mark Levine” by Campboypr. CC BY-SA 4.0. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.