A bill that would allow all Virginia law enforcement officers’ names to be withheld from the public would be the first of its kind in the country, police accountability and open records advocates say.
The proposal by Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake – SB552
– excludes the names of law enforcement and fire marshals from mandatory disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and makes them a personnel record.
Cosgrove said he worked on the bill with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. He acknowledged that officers’ names could be secret “under the broadest scope of that bill.”
It passed the Senate 25-15 this week and will soon be taken up by a House of Delegates subcommittee.
The bill is part of a growing movement inside the law enforcement community to shield officers from scrutiny after a rash of controversial police shootings around the country prompted protests and increased focus on officers, said Samuel Walker, professor emeritus of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha and a longtime law enforcement scholar.
“This is part of the broader culture of shielding officers from being held accountable for their actions,” Walker said. “And this is in the absence of any specific credible evidence that officers are targeted for that request. There’s no basis for that position.”