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Virginia Democrats propose lowering criminal penalty for assaulting police officers

Proposal reduces penalty from felony to misdemeanor

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Democrats in the Virginia state Senate have proposed reducing the charge for assaulting a police officer from a felony to a misdemeanor as a part of a broader police reform agenda, according to the Fort Hunt Herald.

Currently, assaulting a police officer is a Class 6 felony that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of six months of confinement. The Democrats' proposal would "defelonize" the offense and make it only a misdemeanor.

"The deaths of Floyd, [Ahmaud] Arbery and [Breonna] Taylor have awoken Americans and Virginians to long-standing problems in policing in America," Virginia Senate Democrats said in a statement. "After people are arrested, additional damage is done by a criminal justice system that has been streamlined to produce convictions and punishment instead of rehabilitation and justice."

Virginia Democrats have a long list of police reform proposals, many of which have already been presented as legislation but which has not been passed. Some other priorities include banning no-knock warrants, banning chokeholds, requiring police to warn before shooting, and creating a "duty to intervene" for officers who see other officers committing acts of misconduct.

According to statistics released by the Virginia State Police, there were nearly 2,000 assaults on police officers in 2019. One officer was killed, and hundreds of other officers sustained minor-to-severe injuries during assaults.

Democrats control the state House, the state Senate, and the governorship in Virginia. The police reform proposals will be considered ruing a special work session scheduled for August 2020. Gov. Ralph Northam is reportedly supportive of police reform. From WRIC:

The governor said police reform is necessary and that he's already been talking about it with legislators. According to Northam, a fairly ambitions agenda will be introduced during a special session in August.

Ahead of their special session, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called for immediate action to reform the police.

"The Commonwealth is past the point for studies on policing and law enforcement—immediate action must be taken to eliminate law enforcement abuse, prevent and punish racist behaviors, weed out institutional discrimination, and increase accountability at all levels of law enforcement" VLBC said in a statement Wednesday.
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