8News Investigates: Va. Law Enforcement Violating Drug Destruction Laws
So, what's being done about this? Well, it seems Senator Carrico is proposing to make it even easier for LEO's to evade the law:Last year, an ABC 8 News investigation exposed police agencies across the Commonwealth violating state law in how they report seized drugs. Now, lawmakers are taking action, but probably not in the way you'd expect.
In 2013, Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe uncovered that most of Virginia's law enforcement agencies don't properly document how they destroy drugs they take off our streets. Since the investigation first aired, the number of police departments complying with the law has more than tripled, but hundreds of departments, including Richmond's, are still failing to follow the law they're sworn to uphold.
Illegal narcotics seized off of Virginia's streets end up in police evidence lockers all across the Commonwealth, but they don't always stay where they belong.
In 2006, the Henry County sheriff and several deputies were indicted for dealing cocaine, marijuana and even guns from their evidence room. Just last year, Marion Police Chief Michael Dean Roberts was busted for drug dealing out of his evidence locker.
Left unsaid is the fact sheriffs are elected; chiefs are not.Instead of an all-out effort to obey the law, there's now a law enforcement-backed effort underway in the General Assembly to do away with the mandatory reporting to the state of how narcotics are being destroyed.
State Senator Bill Carrico, a former state trooper, is sponsoring a Virginia Sheriffs' Association-backed bill to end police agencies' duty to file drug destruction reports with the Board of Pharmacy.
"Is there enough accountability in Virginia for what happens with drugs once they're taken off the streets?" Lagoe asked Sen. Carrico.
"Oh, absolutely," Carrico answered. "Policing the police is always a hard thing to do, but I think integrity in that department depends upon who's appointed the head of it."
Law enforcement heads across the Commonwealth contend filing a drug destruction report in two places—with their own court and the Virginia Board of Pharmacy—is, in a word, ludicrous.
Sheriff Roberts says his checks and balances come from being an accredited agency; an outside body comes in and audits all of his evidence files.
"As a sheriff, I have so much power," Roberts said. "So much power, that it almost can be scary and people abuse it. So, I tell this accreditation body, ‘Come in and inspect me.'"
An ABC 8 News inspection found his department and numerous others are not fully in compliance with the drug destruction reporting law.
"I certainly can't be upset that you've educated law enforcement in Virginia about [the] statute, about reporting," Roberts said.
Sheriff Roberts says agree or disagree, the law is the law, and he and Virginia's other top cops need to follow it.
"I got 108," Roberts said. "I got to file ‘em and I'm gonna get in compliance with the law."
More to the point: if we can't trust police departments to obey the law regarding seized drugs, how can we trust them regarding seized guns?
Who police the police?
And it looks like this bill is sailing through with not even a glance. Not a single "no" vote yet.
01/03/14 Senate: Prefiled and ordered printed; offered 01/08/14 14101486D
01/03/14 Senate: Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice
01/20/14 Senate: Reported from Courts of Justice (15-Y 0-N)
01/21/14 Senate: Constitutional reading dispensed (37-Y 0-N)
01/22/14 Senate: Read second time and engrossed
01/23/14 Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (38-Y 0-N)
01/27/14 House: Placed on Calendar
01/27/14 House: Read first time
01/27/14 House: Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice
02/14/14 House: Assigned Courts sub: Criminal Law
02/17/14 House: Subcommittee recommends reporting (11-Y 0-N)