Commentary

Changes in decertification of police should bolster trust among Virginians

February 24, 2022 12:05 am

Police closed Broad Street in Richmond to traffic during a pro-gun rally on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

More law enforcement officers in Virginia, under scrutiny for complaints about excessive force and lying since early last year, can no longer find similar jobs elsewhere in the commonwealth. This is a good development, one that bolsters confidence among residents about the quality and professionalism of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers.

The changes to decertification rules occurred after the General Assembly passed legislation in late 2020, following the horrendous murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The shift in regulations in Virginia went into effect March 1, 2021. 

Before that time, the only violations preventing new police employment here were for conviction of a felony; conviction of specific misdemeanors; failing a drug test; and not completing required service training. 

The 2019 videotaped stop of a Virginia state trooper yanking a motorist out of his car by his neck, and telling him “you are going to get your ass whooped,” enraged residents and lawmakers alike – as it should have. That was one of the incidents helping to spur the rule changes in the commonwealth. 

(The highly publicized case of two Windsor police officers, seen on videotape detaining an Army second lieutenant during a traffic stop, took place in late 2020. That was before the updated standards went into effect.)

WRIC.com reported on the new stats. The state Department of Criminal Justice Services began keeping a list of decertified officers in 1999. Between then and March 1 of last year, 83 officers were added. Since then, through Feb. 17 of this year, 66 more officers made the list, according to a spreadsheet released to me this week.  

So the two new infractions had a significant impact in the relatively short time they’ve been in effect. The changes also mean officers won’t commit wrongdoing in one locality and then blithely use the formerly lax standards to join another department in the state. 

Officers on the list can appeal, and about a half-dozen have been reinstated, a department official told me this week. Most, though, stay decertified. 

Those on the list added since early 2021 include:

  • Kenneth L. Washington, jail officer/inmate security at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, cited for a departmental use of force violation. He didn’t appeal. 
  • Jason R. Davis, with the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office, accused of assault and battery. He’s requested an appeal scheduled for mid-March.
  • Robert Wilburn, a former Radford Police Department lieutenant, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count last year of malfeasance in public office involving money stored as criminal evidence. He had already retired by the time the case got to court, and he paid the city back almost $2,500, a news article said. 

Going through the DCJS list, it’s surprising the number of officers and deputies accused of lying during internal affairs investigations, falsifying documents, or otherwise making false statements during criminal investigations. The incidents cast a cloud – fairly or not – on officers who are doing the right thing and following regulations.

Several Chesapeake Police Department officers, for example, were decertified in September for lying during an internal affairs probe. Were the officers accused of covering up for one another and adhering to the police “wall of silence,” regarding alleged wrongdoing? I can’t tell from the DCJS information. 

A Chesapeake Police spokesman, reached by email Wednesday, told me the four officers were involved in three distinct incidents. “Unfortunately, we cannot comment any further on personnel matters,” said Master Police Officer L.C. Kosinski.

One possible problem from the decertification modifications could be in recruiting enough officers. However, recent news stories didn’t link decertification as a reason for shortages. 

John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, told wfxrtv.com that while shortages remain an issue, it’s more important to have trusted officers and deputies on the streets who are honest and fair.

That echoes comments that Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone made to me in 2020, when he was urging the state to add excessive force as a reason for decertification. He’s addressed state legislators about the issue previously.

We want to trust the people who pull us over on the roadways. We want to have confidence that if they do use force, they’re not going overboard or acting out of spite. 

That’s why decertification is necessary, and why the additional checks are welcome. Officers who land on the list shouldn’t work anywhere else in the commonwealth.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]

MORE FROM AUTHOR