Virginia leads the way in making all police secret police.

On January 16, the State of Virginia passed SB522, which would utterly gut Virginia's public records law, already one of the worst in the nation. The law, which is expected to pass the Virginia house and be signed by the governor, would make all information that would identify police immune to public records disclosure. It its the first such law in the nation, but considering the background of it's sponsor, Sen. John Cosgrove , it will likely not be the last. It is model legislation that is likely to be introduced around the country.

The law was written specifically in response to journalistic investigation of police miss-conduct. A newspaper, The Virginia Pilot, had sued to access records of the names of police officers in order to see if officers who had been fired for abuse and/or corruption had gotten jobs with other departments around the state. Their suit was upheld by the State Supreme Court. This prompted legislative action by the police.

John Cosgrove, the bill's sponsor, is a member of both Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #9 and the Virginia Association of Police Chiefs. Representatives of both groups both helped craft and lobbied for the bill. What the press, including those pundits vociferously opposed to the bill, missed are Cosgrove's other connections.

Cosgrove is also the State Chairman of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The group, which holds tightly closed meetings, is sponsored by the right-wing oil billionaire Koch brothers. ALEC's far-reaching legislative initiatives typically first exist as model bills to be pushed through states individually, in a tactical hat-tip to Neo-Confederate states rights politics.

Although the legislation is not yet on ALEC's website as a model bill, initiation of the effort through a state chairman is a clear signal that similar efforts will be attempted elsewhere. Cosgrove, in addition to being leader with ALEC, was named Legislator of the year by the Fraternal Order of Police and the Virginia State Police Association. This initiative appears to be a strong beginning to a national campaign.

The bill was launched in response to a successful journalistic challenge to several agencies failing outright flaunting the existing public records law. The Alexandria County Commonwealth Attorney repeatedly refered derisively to the “public's right to know” who is employed by the public to arrest and use deadly force on the public.

Despite being an effort to silence the press, the bill is being framed in term of protecting the safety of officers and their families from a variety of threats including “ISIS terrorism,” according to Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), a former Naval Intelligence Officer and executive at AMTI, a defense contractor specializing in intelligence and products for special operations. AMTI was acquired by defense giant SAIC in 2006 and became part of the latter's Operational Intelligence Solutions Business Unit in the Intelligence and Security Group.

Offhanded references have also been made to the recent nationwide surge in activism surrounding police murder of unarmed civilians by law makers involved in the crafting of this secret police bill. As public willingness to acquiesce to police abuse wanes, Cosgrove feels that legislative solutions are required to protect the living from the families of the dead. “Unfortunately, our culture has changed,” he said. “Many times, police officers are considered fair game.”

There have been no documented cases of police officers being specifically individually targeted for retribution after participating in the shooting of unarmed civilians anywhere in the country.

The bill has been passed by the Virginia Senate and is expected to sail through the Virginia Assembly, which is majority Republican, and be signed by the Governor, who is considered to be very friendly to law enforcement.

We will see what other states follow suit in restricting the press and public's right to know who the armed state agents are.

Date Originally Published: 
Monday, February 22, 2016
Gerry Bello