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Nearly a dozen commonwealth attorneys support Virginia Senate Dems on police reform

The Virginia state flag flies.

(The Center Square) – Policing reform will be a priority in Virginia’s upcoming special session, and the Senate Democrats’ proposed reforms received support from 11 of Virginia’s commonwealth’s attorneys, who represent more than 40 percent of the state.

The attorneys, whose job it is to prosecute on behalf of the state, voiced their support for several reforms Monday, including ending no-knock raids, scrapping mandatory minimums, giving judges and prosecutors more discretion and giving prosecutors access to an officer’s disciplinary record.

The Democrats’ agenda also includes a plan to mandate de-escalation tactics, ban chokeholds and prohibit shooting at moving vehicles.

One of the most controversial reforms would remove the automatic felony charge for assaulting a police officer. Rather, a minor assault could be a misdemeanor.

These reforms were proposed after protests against police killings erupted across the country, including the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes, and the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed during a no-knock raid in Louisville, Ky.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell, who represents the Hampton Roads area, said during a news conference Virginia should prevent situations like Taylor’s before they ever happen. He said the state should require all warrants are served during the day with a knock and an announcement unless additional information is shown to a judge – not just a magistrate – that shows police cannot do it that way.

“We’re not going to be reactive to a similar situation in Virginia,” Bell said. “We’re going to be proactive.”

Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth said it’s important judges and prosecutors be given greater discretion over cases. She said mandatory minimums too often are used as a tool to force defendants to take a plea, rather than allowing every case to be reviewed individually.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor, who represents Henrico County, said the commonwealth attorney offices can do only so much and the General Assembly needs to enact long-lasting change to build a community where people feel safe and police officers are truly peace officers.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, said these proposals will help reduce recidivism and facilitate better rehabilitation. Although he said he expects bipartisan support on some of the proposals, Republicans are not on board with a lot of the Democrats’ priorities.

Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, told reporters after the news conference Republicans will oppose any efforts to defund the police, any efforts to remove school resource officers from schools and, especially, any efforts to defelonize assault on a police officer. He said police should not need to be badly wounded before someone is charged with a felony.

Bell also said Republicans will not support ending all mandatory minimums, which cover crimes such as killing an officer, child pornography and violating a protective order. He said some mandatory minimums for lower-level crimes, however, are worth looking at. He said Republicans will consider some reforms during the hearing process and would support policies that help good police get the training, and help they need and policies that get bad cops off the police force.

Senate Democrats will not consider legislation that would put restrictions on police unions, which Bell said Republicans would support.

The House Committee for Courts of Justice and the House Committee on Public Safety will hold a joint meeting Wednesday to consider police reform policies.

The legislative special session will convene Aug. 18.

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