Why We Should Be Withholding Officers' Names

| by Nicholas Roberts
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A Virginia state House subcommittee unanimously voted down a bill proposed by the state Senate that would have allowed the names of every police officer and deputy in the state to be withheld from the public.

Republican Sen. John Cosgrove, who introduced the original proposal, argued the bill would protect police officers and their families at a time when anti-police sentiment has been growing around the country, according to The Washington Post.  

The unanimous vote was a wise decision by the subcommittee, which seeks to strike a balance in protecting police officers and fostering an environment of public transparency, The Virginian-Pilot reports.

Police officers should receive protection from online stalkers and those seeking to commit harm against law enforcement, but this goal is not accomplished by trying to essentially turn the police into a separate social caste following a different version of the law than civilians, which is what the Virginia Senate proposal would have done.

A better model to follow would be Oregon House Bill 4087, which gives every Oregon law enforcement organization 90 days to withhold an officer’s name if the organization in question can convince a judge that a clear and credible threat against the officer exists, Willamette Week reports.

Law enforcement watchdogs have reacted to the bill proposed by the Oregon House of Representatives with the same consternation they had with the Virginia Senate bill.  This hides the fact that the Oregon bill is less stringent than the one proposed in Virginia, as well as that the Oregon bill is a direct response to occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by an admitted anti-government organization.

Law enforcement officers in Harney County, Oregon, have faced and continue to face death threats from supporters of Ammon Bundy and his group, particularly after the shooting of LeVoy Finicum on Jan. 26.  Lawmakers have naturally supported keeping the identity of the officer who shot Finicum secret, for good reason.  

Supporters of Bundy had previously threatened women, children and clergy in Harney County. This gives a strong reason to believe that if members of this group discovered the identity of the officer in question, at least some of them would try to act on the information in a malevolent manner.

The Oregon bill will still permit for officers who shoot civilians to be identified. But it also clamps down on the possibility that out-of-state extremist and militant groups will try to violently challenge Oregon police officers and their families. Overall, it is a sensible approach to take to balance public transparency with a need to protect law enforcement.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The Virginian-Pilot, The Washington Post, Willamette Week / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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