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A New Virginia Bill Would Keep All Police Names Secret

The bill would classify names as "personnel records" to get around Virginia's disclosure law.
A New Virginia Bill Would Keep All Police Names Secret

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. 

This video includes images from Getty Images and Anderskev / CC BY 3.0 and clips from C-SPAN and Virginia General Assembly