New state law requires police to record demographics during traffic stops. Here’s what’s going on in the Historic Triangle

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Police are doubling down on roving and stationary patrols this Labor Day weekend. (file photo)
(WYDaily file photo)

Law enforcement officers in Virginia will now be required to record demographic data during traffic stops.

House Bill 1250, also called the Community Policing Act, was passed during the General Assembly’s legislative session last March and went into effect last week. It involves an extra level of data collection for police officers during traffic stops which will help prohibit law enforcement officers from engaging in bias-based policing, according to legislation.

The law now requires officers to record the following information:

  • Race, ethnicity and age of person stopped.
  • Reason for the stop.
  • Location of the stop.
  • Whether a warning, written citation, or summons was issued or any person was arrested.
  • If a warning, written citation, or summons was issued or an arrest was made, the warning provided, violation charged, or crime charged.
  • Whether the person or vehicle was searched.

It also requires each law enforcement agency to report the number of complaints regarding excessive force to the Virginia State Police.

Once the data is collected, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services will create an annual findings report that will help determine recommendations in order to improve community policing.

The state police is also required to report the number of complaints to the reporting database and the DCJS’s findings will be reported to the governor, general assembly and the attorney general.

Williamsburg

Williamsburg Police spokesman Charles Ericsson said local officers had already been collecting some of that information. However, the new law creates a more specific set of data to be collected.

Ericsson said officers previously would collect information during traffic stops such as locations and citations issued in addition to any information on race and gender that was collected from scanning a driver’s license.

Now police officers will report that information directly to officials at the dispatch unit which will collect the data for reporting. 

Ericsson said the department also previously had an internal monthly crime analysis report that helps the department make decisions about where officers need to adjust to be placed in the community. 

“So the information was always there, but now we’re required to say it over the radio to dispatch which has a field to report the information,” he said. 

Two weeks previous to the law going into effect, Ericsson said Williamsburg Police officers already started implementing those data collection practices in order to make a smooth transition. Officers also underwent a training session where they learned how to report the information to dispatch.

Ericsson said he isn’t sure why the law directly targets traffic stops, but most likely it’s because traffic stops are generally officer initiated as opposed to someone calling a report in. Looking at traffic stops might provide better information on the actions of an individual officer because they’re initiating the interaction.

James City County

Prior to the new law, the James City County Police Department only recorded information during a traffic stop if the person was summoned or arrested, department spokeswoman Stephanie Williams wrote in an email Tuesday.

“The Department previously did not track any identifying information on drivers when traffic stops were initiated and where no police action was taken,” she wrote.

So why was the department not recording this information before the bill passed?

“Prior to this legislation, there was no requirement for law enforcement agencies to track this data,” Williams wrote. “We at JCCPD have gone through great lengths to provide officers regular training on the issue of bias based policing and cultural diversity to help minimize potential conflicts related to this issue.”

York County

Capt. Troy Lyons, spokesman for the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office, said they have to send the reporting data quarterly and access to the reporting database is not available to the public.

When asked how the law will affect deputy training and the performance of the sheriff’s office, Lyons said it “has yet to be seen..”

Lyons said deputies during a traffic stop would record driver information such as race, the number of people in the car and the deputies’ actions.

However, Maj. Ron Montgomery said the sheriff’s office is still working on reporting ethnicity.

“They want it to be as uniform as possible, but officers will not ask a person for their ethnicity if it is not obvious because that could lead to more issues,” he said. “ If they don’t know, then they will put it down as unclear or unknown. “

Montgomery added that the sheriff’s office was already following “many” of the new law’s requirements.

Law enforcement is required to get information about the person’s race or gender through “observation or information provided to the officer by the driver,” according to the bill’s summary.

When asked if the reporting database was new or a replacement to a current system or if officers would require training to use it, Montgomery referred WYDaily to the Virginia State Police.

Virginia State Police

WYDaily asked Michelle Anaya, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, how often would police departments report traffic stop information, where the information would be sent and if the reporting database was new.

WYDaily also asked Anaya if the officers needed to receive training to use the database, how the new act would affect officer training, if officers needed training to use the reporting system and if reporting race, ethnicity or gender was part of the traffic procedure previously.

Anaya emailed the Community Policing Act bill summary in response.

“The report shall include information regarding any state or local law-enforcement agency that has failed or refused to report the required data,” according to the bill’s summary.

Answers to whether the new law would affect officer training or if asking for or race, ethnicity and gender was included in traffic stops before, were not immediately available.

WYDaily multimedia reporters Julia Marsigliano, Alexa Doiron and Gabrielle Rente contributed to this report.

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