OPINION — We must reverse the trend of violent crime in Virginia
The lead story of the May 16 Gazette Virginian was a murdered teen shot to death. Same newspaper, next edition, the lead story was a man murdered by intentionally being run over with a vehicle. Second lead story, conviction of another murderer.
Looking east and west we know the situation is as bad or worse. In 2019, Danville and Petersburg both made the most dangerous cities list nationally, Petersburg ranked 13th ranked and Danville 23rd. In 2020, Washington and Richmond joined the 30 worst, while Petersburg moved to fourth place. I sadly cite these statistics so that all understand that Chicago and the like are not the only places murders occur and how.
One would believe that with this type of information at hand, that policy makers would spend time and effort to change the equation. Instead, the last two years, the majority party in the General Assembly and the governor’s administration have focused instead on things that will make matters worse.
Legislative efforts have done much to demoralize those that put on the uniforms of the various law enforcement agencies. One bill that passed the House last year would have removed the qualified immunity an officer has for doing their duty. The bill failed in the Senate after a major pushback. If it had passed, officers would be at risk of personal lawsuits every time they came in contact with anyone. With no protection from frivolous lawsuits, any assets they had would be at risk. Officers assured me that they would retire or resign immediately if the bill passed.
Another bill permits city councils to create “civilian review boards” to sit in conference rooms to judge the actions of cops after the fact. The reality is that officers are trained for months on how to react in sudden emergencies, however, in the streets when a life is on the line, one often has only a split second to evaluate the situation and act. No one sitting in a comfortable chair, with little or no training, can or should decide if the right decision was made after the fact. Sometimes things do go wrong, in those cases there was already a method for professionals to make judgements.
With this lack of support for the dangerous work that officers perform, is there any wonder why cops are leaving the profession faster than new ones can be hired and trained? Currently, we are losing state troopers at twice the rate that we can train replacements. At least three sheriff’s departments have recently announced they have lowered the age for deputy applications from 21 to 18. They are doing this out of necessity.
The Democrat majority ended the death penalty. People have differing opinions on the morality of the state putting folks to death. In Virginia, few have been executed in recent years. There have only been five executions in the last 10 years. Those individuals were responsible for the murder of at least 11 people.
Some believe that it is a deterrent to those who would commit murder. I, however, believe it is something that should only be used sparingly, but there are times that it should be up for consideration.
For instance, often the threat of capital punishment has been used to convince a defendant to admit their guilt rather than putting a family through the agony of a lengthy trial. Likewise, without the possibility of capital punishment, correction officers are at risk. One inmate murdered a guard knowing nothing more could be done.
Considering the rise in death and felony assaults, who in their right mind believes freeing these thugs makes sense? Certainly not elderly singles living in neighborhoods where these hoodlums circulate. Certainly not families with children nor the small businesses that serve these families.
Only two groups seem to benefit. There are the hoodlums and drug dealers that can operate more easily without cops around, or if officers are intimidated into looking the other way. Then there are the publicity hounds that ignore the lives of most that die but choose to bring attention to the few that might reap monetary settlements. November is the time to reverse course.
FRANK RUFF JR. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen.Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.