Virginia House of Delegates member, Jackson H. Miller-R, is a former police officer,and sponsor of House Bill 2043, which would forbid a police chief or any public official from naming an officer who discharges a gun, or is under investigation for using force, until an investigation is complete, unless the investigation lasts longer than six months.
Miller said the bill would protect police and “standardize” a policy for identifying officers after an incident. The bill was propsed after a Fredericksburg, VA police officer pulled over Travis J. Blair and fatally shot him after a chase and struggle in March.Soon after the shooting, Police Chief David Nye authorized public release of the officer’s identity: Christopher Brossmer. If Miller’s bill passes, naming an officer beforehand or providing information to the public like in the Brossmer case, would become a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
“Most agencies won’t release anything until well after the investigation,” Miller acknowledged. “I believe Fairfax and a couple other [departments] have decided they’re going to release [information] really quickly, probably based on pressure they got for other issues.”
Miller added that he didn’t have firsthand knowledge of officers in Virginia facing threats after a shooting.
Currently little to no information is available publicly in Virginia about an officer after a police shooting.
Any history of disciplinary problems, previous shootings or use-of-force complaints is shielded from the public in Virginia law.
“Anything that broadens the gap between the community trust and law enforcement, that would deepen the divide, cannot be a good thing,” said Linda Thomas, president of the Virginia State Conference NAACP.
“And so we would urge lawmakers to … vote this down, and continue on the pathway that leads to better communication, citizens’ review and oversight in the investigatory process, and to continue to remedy anything that would prevent law enforcement officers from being in tune and in touch with the community.”
She also noted that after a police officer shoots someone, the person shot is named and subject to public scrutiny “while cloaking in secrecy the identity of the public servant who is paid with taxpayer money.”