Should the names of police officers always be kept a secret? The Virginia Senate says yes.
Senate Bill 552 would keep the names of law enforcement officers and fire marshals secret, even during the event of an officer-involved shooting. To get around the state's disclosure law, those names would be classified as "personnel records," which would make them exempt. The bill passed with a 25-15 vote.
Sen. John Cosgrove, the sponsor of the bill, says it's just to protect officers from becoming targets. He said: "The culture is not one of respect for law enforcement anymore. It's really, 'How, how can we get these guys? What can we do?' . . . Police officers are much more in jeopardy. There’s no nefarious intent behind the bill."
The bill is apparently a response to a court ruling that forced the state to release the names of current and former law enforcement officers for a newspaper story. But opponents call it "an extreme reaction" to a scenario that doesn't happen often.
Backlash to the bill has been pretty swift. Virginia's American Civil Liberties Union said police being attacked by people using public records is rare, adding: "To say every officer’s name ought to be confidential is just a step too far in government secrecy. We are dangerously close to a police state in some respects."
A bill like the one in Virginia doesn't pop up often, but it's definitely not the only state trying to shield officer identities.
A proposal in Oregon would allow police to keep a name secret for about three months if a judge rules there's an actual and credible threat to the officer. The move comes in response to an officer who claims he received death threats after shooting and killing a member of the Oregon militia.
A bill that passed the House in Pennsylvania would go a bit further and would keep the name of any officer involved in a use-of-force investigation a secret unless that officer is actually charged with the crime.
All of these bills come at a time when protests of police brutality and officer-involved shootings are prompting more police transparency rather than less.
The Virginia bill is now in the hands of the House.