Charles W. “Bill” Carrico, Sr. is a retired Virginia State Police Trooper. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2002-2012 and in the Senate of Virginia from 2012-2020.
As Americans viewed the death of an individual in the custody of police officers, it sparked many emotions. I have watched as Americans have taken to the streets demanding justice for what many believe to be systematic social injustice by law enforcement across the Country.
As the police have been the focal point of protests, it has now become a battle cry to defund them. This is the worst possible response imaginable. In a nation with crimes against children, domestic violence, and property theft and destruction, we need professional law enforcement on the job ensuring public safety. From guarding against terror attacks to providing traffic safety, police are essential to our communities and to ensuring our quality of life. The problem is not policing, it is leadership that allows systemic problems to exist.
I had the honor to serve in one of the finest organizations in the United States, the Virginia State Police. We assisted other law enforcement agencies. Overwhelmingly, I found the agencies we assisted, and their personnel, to be very committed and thoroughly professional. One of the things that makes Virginia policing different from other parts of the country is the prohibition on unionizing with the power to negotiate.
Most law enforcement agencies do have or belong to an association, which is completely different than a union. Associations allow agencies to weed out the bad actors and those who should not be serving in positions of public trust. An association advocates on behalf of the agency with no bargaining power to influence internal decisions. Unions ultimately affect day-to-day operations, hindering and in some instances outright preventing essential internal oversight.
As a Right-to-Work state, Virginia prohibits unions from shutting down public services to bargain for an outcome. In Minneapolis, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and countless other places where police unions are strong, leadership does not have the power to weed out the bad officers because they must bargain with a union.
In this year’s General Assembly session, Delegate Elizabeth R. Guzman, a Democrat representing Northern Virginia, introduced House Bill 582 (HB 582), which will change Virginia law on May 1, 2021 to allow public employee unions. Signed into law by Governor Northam, this legislation has put Virginia on a path to become more like those places where unions effectively prevent the weeding out of those who should not be in uniform.
For State Troopers, there are standards of conduct, which are many and strict. If you cross a line, you put your position in jeopardy. The Department has a standard by which you must live and to which you must adhere – or be unemployed. Sheriffs are much the same. They have a responsibility to their constituents. If they tolerate bad deputies, the public will remove them from office. Municipalities elect a council that appoints their law enforcement leaders and can remove them – until now. With HB 582 signed into law, a union with the power to negotiate contracts may paralyze local law enforcement agencies from acting.
Virginia also has a Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). Working with legislators, commonwealth’s attorneys, and law enforcement leaders, DCJS sets the standards of training for law enforcement. With a system-wide perspective on criminal justice, DCJS is ideally positioned to improve training and standards for law enforcement in Virginia. A more uniformed method of operation among each department would be a good start, and DCJS would be the place to begin the conversation. As we saw the situation unfold in Minneapolis, those of us who are serving or have served in law enforcement in Virginia were stunned by the method of restraint the police officer was using. We were shocked further when we later learned it was what he had been trained to do.
We have an opportunity to improve this profession. We must begin by rejecting calls to “defund the police,” and instead adequately funding professional law enforcement. Law enforcement officer work long hours, different shifts, and even days off just to make ends meet. They see evil acts that most of us would never want to witness because of the trauma it leaves on one’s psyche. Too often, they are the first to shoulder pay cuts and training budget cuts, and must use outdated equipment because of budget shortfalls. We can learn from this and band together for a more secure Virginia in which all our families can prosper in safety.