A police car in Richmond, Va. Police currently provide the vast majority of transports to psychiatric hospitals across Virginia. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation Wednesday banning law enforcement officers from executing search warrants without first knocking and announcing themselves as police.
Sponsored by Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, in the House and Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, in the Senate, the bills were inspired by the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in Louisville during a late-night raid of her apartment.
“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery woke Americans to a longstanding problem that has existed for generations — and we know Virginia is not immune,” Locke said in a statement. “These are transformative bills that will make Virginians’ lives better, and I’m so proud to see them signed into law.”
The law makes Virginia one of just three states to prohibit no-knock warrants, according to Northam’s office. The bill divided law enforcement agencies, with some arguing unannounced searches are important in limited circumstances to protect officers and evidence. Others said they didn’t use the tactic and considered it dangerous not to identify themselves as police.
Northam also signed legislation Wednesday that:
- limits police use of chokeholds, though the law does not impose an outright ban, allowing officers to use the maneuver only if it’s “immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person,”
- requires officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force,
- allows some local governments to establish civilian review boards with the subpoena and disciplinary authority,
- creates new statewide minimum training standards for officers, and
- allows the state to decertify police officers who break rules but are not convicted of crimes.
Northam said he was proposing amendments to two criminal justice bills.
He asked lawmakers to amend legislation limiting police departments from obtaining certain military equipment, proposing waivers for some search and rescue equipment.
And he proposed a six-month delay for an expanded earned sentence credit program that would move up the release dates for thousands of inmates who follow prison rules and participate in counseling and educational programs. Lawmakers had proposed the new program go into effect January 2022. Northam said a July 2022 enactment date would give the Department of Corrections the time it needs to implement the program.
“Too many families, in Virginia and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” Northam said in a statement. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. I am grateful to the legislators and advocates who have worked so hard to make this change happen. Virginia is better, more just and more equitable with these laws on our books.”
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