Virginia reforms lead to increase in police decertifications
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two years ago, the only reasons police officers could be decertified in Virginia were if they tested positive for drugs, were convicted of certain crimes or failed to complete required training.
That changed when a wave of police reforms passed in Virginia after the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, including laws that expanded the grounds for decertification and tightened rules requiring law enforcement agencies to share personnel files to prevent officers who commit misconduct from getting jobs with other police departments.
Since the new law went into effect on March 1, 2021, 68 police officers, jail officers and deputy sheriffs have been decertified for a range of misconduct and criminal offenses, including shoplifting, driving under the influence, sexual harassment, and possession and receipt of child pornography, according to a list provided by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Police officers aren’t licensed in Virginia; they are certified. If they are decertified, they are disqualified from working in law enforcement in the state.
The most frequent reason for decertification over the past year was one added in the new law: lying. From March 1, 2021 to March 1, 2022, more than two dozen officers were decertified for lying, most during internal affairs investigations. The list does not include any details on what the officers lied about.
In September, four officers from the Chesapeake Police Department were decertified for lying during internal affairs investigations. Police Chief Kelvin Wright declined to disclose any specifics, citing confidentiality laws that protect personnel records.
“We do not want someone who is untruthful to remain in our ranks,” Wright said.
“The expectations are that police officers are telling the truth,” he said. “If we want to build trust, we have to be truthful.”
Four officers from the Chesterfield County Police Department were decertified in December, including Officer Brandon Hyde, who was convicted of exchanging nude or partially nude photos with a 17-year-old girl. Hyde’s attorney, John Click, declined to comment.
Richmond police Officer Richard Chinappi III was decertified in January after being charged with animal cruelty. Chinappi pleaded no contest to felony animal cruelty charges in the fatal shooting of his fiancee’s dog. He pleaded guilty to making a false report to police when he said he accidentally killed the dog while trying to stop a bear attack at the home he shared with his fiancee.
Chinappi’s lawyer, Mark Bong, did not return a call seeking comment. Chinappi is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday.
Four officers from various law enforcement agencies across the state were decertified for assault and battery on a family or household member.
Before the law was expanded, a total of 83 officers had been decertified between 1999 and March 2021.
Dana Schrad, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said police chiefs generally supported the expansion of the law but want to ensure that officers are aware of what behaviors might lead to decertification and that the process is fair. The new law also calls for the development of statewide professional standards of conduct for all law enforcement officers, which have not yet been completed.
Schrad said the number of officers decertified since the new law went into effect is not surprising.
“It’s not that we’re seeing a ton more bad behavior; it’s just that we’ve really raised the bar on our expectations of officers and we’re holding them to a much higher standard,” Schrad said.
Under the old law, if an officer resigned in the middle of an internal affairs or complaint investigation, the police chief or sheriff wasn’t compelled by law to report the officer to the Department of Criminal Justice Services for decertification, especially if the subject of the investigation wasn’t grounds for decertification. Critics said this allowed an officer who was under investigation to find a job with another law enforcement agency.
The new law requires the chief of police, sheriff or law enforcement agency administrator to notify the Criminal Justice Services Board within 48 hours of any employee who resigns or is fired in advance of being found guilty of an offense that would make them subject to decertification.
The reforms also require any law enforcement agency hiring new officers to request their personnel files from former employers, including any disciplinary actions or lawsuits filed against them. Critics said the old law did not make the sharing of records mandatory or timely, which allowed some bad officers to get jobs at other police departments.
“This made decertification easier and quicker, before they would have that chance to make that hop to another jurisdiction,” said Del. Marcus Simon, the lead sponsor of the House bill in 2020.