While Virginia’s state government has paused most new spending in the state budget, a new law that aims to ban racial, or “bias-based,” profiling by requiring police agencies to keep additional records is moving forward as planned.
The Community Policing Act, sponsored by Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd, of Woodbridge, prohibits the Virginia State Police and local police and sheriff’s departments from engaging in bias-based profiling and requires officers to collect and report additional data pertaining to motor vehicle or investigatory stops that will be collected in a statewide database.
The law goes into effect July 1, even as state lawmakers have delayed a number of other initiatives, such as increasing the minimum wage, until the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are better understood.
The new law, recently signed Gov. Ralph Northam, defines bias-based profiling as any action taken by a law-enforcement officer based solely on a trait common to a group, such as real or perceived race, ethnicity, age, gender, or any combination thereof, in seeking to apprehend a suspect who matches a specific description. The exception would be when such characteristics are used in combination with other identifying factors.
Currently, police officers in Virginia are not required to report the race, ethnicity or gender of drivers during traffic stops, meaning that type of data does not exist to be studied or reported in the commonwealth, Torian said in a press release.
“The Community Policing Act will prohibit local law-enforcement officers, sheriffs and State Police officers from engaging in these practices in the performance of their official duties,” Torian said.
Under the new law, the data from traffic stops and police investigations will be collected in a database maintained by the state police for the purpose of determining the existence of bias-based profiling. The data will also be analyzed for the prevalence of complaints alleging the use of excessive force by Virginia law enforcement officers.
According to the bill, the state police may seek assistance in analyzing the data from a public or private institution of higher education, or a qualified independent body. The department will then annually report the findings and recommendations from the analysis and interpretation of the data to the governor, General Assembly and attorney general.
The report will also include information about whether state or local law-enforcement agencies have failed or refused to report the required data to the state police.
Under the new law, Virginia law enforcement officers will be required to collect the following data each time they stop the driver of a motor vehicle:
- the race, ethnicity, age and gender of the person stopped
- the reason for the stop
- the location of the stop
- whether a warning, written citation, or summons is issued or whether any arrest is made
- The warning provided, violation charged, or crime charged if they occur
- whether the vehicle or any person is searched
The new law also requires each state and local law-enforcement agency to collect the number of complaints the agency receives alleging the use of excessive force.
The new bill does not come without a cost. State police estimate it will cost $4.4 million to implement the law in 2021, with an ongoing cost of $1.4 million beginning in 2022, according to a fiscal impact analysis conducted by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget.
According to VSP, the data required to be collected, with the exception of the vehicle search data, is already collected for all investigative stops in which charges are brought. But there is currently no method to aggregate this data on a statewide level.
VSP will need to create 10 new positions to create and maintain the database, according the fiscal impact statement, including funding additional state troopers to make up for the time spent entering the data required by the bill.
Prince William County Police Department spokesman 1st Sgt. Jonathan Perok said the local department is aware of the changes and has begun implementing strategies to comply with the new requirements. However, it’s too early to know what impact it will have on the department’s staffing needs, Perok said.
Regarding traffic stops, Perok said there are two primary courses of action that can dictate what information is collected, a verbal warning or the issuance of a summons, or written citation. On traffic stops specific to these two circumstances, Perok said, there is currently no requirement to note whether a search is conducted.
Perok said that in the case of a verbal warning from a police officer, the location of the incident is documented, but no other information is required to be recorded.
“An officer can add any information they wish on any aspect of the stop, but it is not currently required,” Perok said.
The Community Policing Act passed both the state House and Senate in March, with all the Democratic members of both houses voting in favor, and most, but not all, Republican members voting against it. The bill passed the House of Delegates on a 62-35 vote and the state Senate by a 22-17 vote.
All of Prince William County’s state legislators voted in favor of the bill with the exception of Sen. Richard Stuart, R-28th, who did not vote.