A prominent civil-rights organization is protesting a Virginia state bill that would create a “secret police” force allowing officers to be “effectively immunized from wrongdoing and able to act with impunity.”
The Rutherford Institute dispatched a letter Wednesday to James LeMunyon, chairman of the House of Delegates’ General Laws subcommittee.
The proposal, Senate Bill 552, would classify the names of all police officers as “personnel records,” making them exempt from disclosure.
“American citizens have a right to know when government agencies and government officials have engaged in wrongdoing,” said constitutional attorney John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of “Battlefield America: The War on the American People.”
“Whether those individuals occupy a public office or are employed by a law-enforcement agency is immaterial. If a government employee has been charged with misconduct, it is the right of the taxpayer to know both the name of the individual and the charge against them.”
He noted that all across America, people are demanding more transparency, not less.
“What we cannot afford to have happen in Virginia is the kind of backlash against law enforcement misconduct and subsequent cover-ups that resulted in community-wide protests and acts of civil disobedience in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore,” the letter said.
“By ensuring that the identities of police officers could be kept completely secret, SB 552 would ostensibly result in the creation of secret police forces throughout the Commonwealth. If police are allowed to operate anonymously without the moderating influence that comes from public oversight of their activities, officers could be effectively immunized from wrongdoing and able to act with impunity and in disregard of the civil rights of citizens.”
Lawsuits over violations would be impossible, the letter said, since no defendant could be named.
The law would kill “a crucial deterrent to police misconduct,” the Rutherford Institute said.
The institute noted that a “law enforcement officer” is defined in Virginia as any full-time or part-time employee of a police department, sheriff’s office and other agencies.
“Efforts to circumvent greater government transparency which, in the process, potentially shields government wrongdoing will only weaken that which makes our system of government strong: a system of checks and balances, public accountability, and government agencies and employees that are fully cognizant of the fact that they serve the taxpayers,” the letter said.
The bill is scheduled for a hearing before a subcommittee in the state House.