Sheriffs Urge General Assembly to Accept Governor’s Amendments Narrowing Focus of Data Collection Legislation

RICHMOND – Virginia sheriffs support Governor McAuliffe’s amendments to bills that, as passed by the General Assembly, have unintended consequences that will negatively affect domestic violence prevention efforts.

SB 965 and HB 1673 were originally known as license plate reader (LPR) bills. However, the bills passed by the General Assembly greatly expanded the definitions and now include any device that records images or data, including: courthouse cameras, jail cameras, and services offered to victims of crime notifying them of the status of offenders.

The data is collected at booking and used in 100% of Virginia’s jails to notify victims and citizens of pending inmate releases. This is an important domestic violence prevention effort that is funded by the General Assembly and used in all of Virginia’s regional and local jails. There are around 150,000 inquiries per month from citizens on the status of inmates.

The Governor amended the bills at the request of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association by removing all language except LPR applications and granted storage of that data up to 60 days. The seven-day provision in bills, as they currently stand, would be the shortest in the country. Maryland has a one-year retention limit, and it is important that Virginia’s rule be at least 30 days.

“As passed by the General Assembly, these bills are an overreach and inconsistent with what other states have done to insure the protection of their citizens,” said Lunenburg Sheriff Arthur Townsend, President of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association. “Virginia’s sheriffs are supporting the Governor’s amendments, because failure to pass them will jeopardize public safety on a number of levels.”

The law enforcement community in Virginia has compromised by agreeing with the LPR data limitations originally passed by the House. The latest versions of the bills are the product of eleventh-hour conference committee reports that did not get vetted prior to a vote. In those waning hours of the session, there was little understanding of the potential impact these bills would have in the real world.

“During the legislative process, not one citizen appeared on their own behalf providing any information on how this crime-fighting technology was used to infringe on their rights,” said John W. Jones, Executive Director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association.

Several law enforcement agencies have provided examples of how LPRs have been used to solve crimes. Click HERE to read an Op-Ed in support of the amendments featured in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch by Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Doucette, Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts, and Prince William County Police Chief Stephan Hudson.

It is important to know that current law prohibits law enforcement agencies from obtaining vehicle license plate information from the Department of Motor Vehicles database unless there is a legitimate law enforcement purpose. It is also important to know that LPRs do not collect personal information associated with license plates. They simply record numbers and locations of license plate numbers that are meaningless unless there is a need for a specific number related to a crime.

Click HERE to read a letter from one Virginia sheriff explaining the importance of these amendments.

Click HERE to read a similar letter from a law enforcement agency in northern Virginia (Fairfax County Police Department).

And click HERE and HERE to review lists of how LPRs have been used to solve crimes in northern Virginia (provided by the Arlington and Prince William Police Departments).

The General Assembly will consider the Governor’s amendments during the reconvened session on April 15.

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