Should the names of police officers always be kept a secret? The Virginia Senate says yes.
Senate Bill 552 would keep the names of law enforcement officers and fire marshals secret, even during the event of an officer-involved shooting. To get around the state's disclosure law, those names would be classified as "personnel records," which would make them exempt. The bill passed with a 25-15 vote.
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A new Virginia bill would keep all police names secret
People march in protest to the fatal police shooting of Charleena Lyles, in Seattle, Washington on June 22, 2017.
Police in Washington were under scrutiny after a pregnant woman was fatally shot by officers responding to a burglary call. Authorities said the 30-year-old victim, identified as Charleena Lyles, had called to report an attempted burglary at her apartment on the morning of June 18 and pulled a knife on the two officers, who shot and killed her.
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SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 20: Chalk artwork is written on the ground at a memorial for Charleena Lyles at the apartment building in which she was killed on June 20, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. Officers from the Seattle Police Department shot and killed Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, on June 18. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
The car of Philando Castile is seen surrounded by police vehicles in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY.
People hold signs in protest after a jury found St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Philando Castile yesterday, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Bria Webb
Protesters hold placards against the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in Manhattan, New York, U.S., July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Bria Webb
People take part in a protest against the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile during a march in New York July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
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A protest sign showing and image of Ezell Ford as members of the 'Black Lives Matter' alliance stage protest outside the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's home as they try to force him to fire LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck, in Los Angeles, California on June 7, 2015. The alliance have renewed protests after a recent report from an LAPD watchdog determined that the August 11, 2014 officer-involved shooting death of 25-year-old Ezell Ford in South Central was justified. AFP PHOTO/ MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Portland, United States - May 19: Protesters hold a banner during a demonstration for freedom and equality against police brutality and racism at the Portland Police Bureau's North Precinct in Portland, Ore., United States, on May 19, 2017, on what would have been Malcolm X's 92nd birthday. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Portland, United States - May 19: Protesters hold signs during a demonstration for freedom and equality against police brutality and racism at the Portland Police Bureau's North Precinct in Portland, Ore., United States, on May 19, 2017, on what would have been Malcolm X's 92nd birthday. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Sen. John Cosgrove, the sponsor of the bill, says it's meant to protect officers from becoming targets. He said: "The culture is not one of respect for law enforcement anymore. It's really, 'How, how can we get these guys? What can we do?' ... Police officers are much more in jeopardy. There's no nefarious intent behind the bill."
The bill is apparently a response to a court ruling that forced the state to release the names of current and former law enforcement officers for a newspaper story. But opponents call it "an extreme reaction" to a scenario that doesn't happen often.
Backlash to the bill has been pretty swift. Virginia's American Civil Liberties Union said police being attacked by people using public records is rare, adding: "To say every officer's name ought to be confidential is just a step too far in government secrecy. We are dangerously close to a police state in some respects."
"The culture is not one of respect for law enforcement anymore. It's really, 'How, how can we get these guys? What can we do?'"
Sen. John Cosgrove, the sponsor of the bill
A bill like the one in Virginia doesn't pop up often, but it's definitely not the only state trying to shield officer identities.
A proposal in Oregon would allow police to keep a name secret for about three months if a judge rules there's an actual and credible threat to the officer. The move comes in response to an officer who claims he received death threats after shooting and killing a member of the Oregon militia.
A bill that passed the House in Pennsylvania would go a bit further and would keep the name of any officer involved in a use-of-force investigation a secret unless that officer is actually charged with the crime.
All of these bills come at a time when protests of police brutality and officer-involved shootings are prompting more police transparency rather than less.
The Virginia bill is now in the hands of the House.