Virginia Senate approves sweeping police reform

The Virginia Senate approved wide-ranging police reform legislation Thursday that would prohibit the use of chokeholds, restrict no-knock search warrants, and expand the grounds to decertify law enforcement officials who commit misconduct.

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The legislation passed along party lines, and includes many of the measures protesters around the country have called for since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Democrats hailed it as a landmark achievement they said preserves public safety while promoting civil liberties and addressing urgent needs.

“We've slowed things down long enough and it's time that we begin to effectuate some fairness here and some justice here,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, the bill's chief sponsor.

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Other aspects of the bill would require police to issue warnings before firing weapons and prohibit shooting at moving motor vehicles.

The legislation now heads to the House of Delegates, where the Democratic majority have passed a package of similar bills recently. The two chambers largely see eye-to-eye on police reform issues, but do have differences. On Thursday, moderate Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to defeat a House bill aimed at making it easier to sue police officers for misconduct.

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The special legislative session, which began last month, was called by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to address the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and to consider proposed police and criminal justice reforms in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing.

Some Republican senators cast the bill passed Thursday as a disaster for police officers that would empower criminals and cost innocent lives. GOP lawmakers said Democrats were unfairly questioning the tactics police use when they have to make split-second decisions in high-stress environments.

“How dare us to sit here and question when we’re just Monday morning quarterbacks,” said Sen. Amanda Chase, a Republican who is also running for governor.

Chase elicited loud groans from other lawmakers when she called herself a “victim” of police misconduct. Chase apologized last year after berating a Capitol Police officer after being denied access to a specific parking spot. Chase said she was heartened to know the officer later left the department, an example she said of police department's own internal discipline measures working.

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, a Republican, angrily denounced Chase for making what he called an unfair and inaccurate characterization of the officer's departure, which he said was for a better job and unrelated to the incident with Chase.