Spare Us the Secret Police–The Public Ones Are Plenty Unaccountable

So, Chesterfield has their very own Secret Police–or at least police that are secret

The department recently moved to redact 500 names from its roster in what is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to skirt any accountability for their actions. That they did this in response to OpenOversight VA’s request for a full list of officers on the department’s payroll makes it even more dubious. Nothing says “we have something to hide” like scurrying away into your little hidey-hole when the spotlight of accountability shines your way.

Of course, Chesterfield PD sees it differently. As far as they’re concerned, revealing these names would directly threaten the safety of officers, as they might go undercover at some point. If, the cops argue, they were to go undercover with their name publicly available, they would be exposed and, therefore, at risk. Now, their definition of “undercover” is a bit… well, broad, but let’s move past that for now.

Fine. Let’s take that at face value. Protecting the safety of officers is a theoretically noble end (let’s ignore for now the fact that police officers don’t even make into the top 20 for most dangerous jobs in America), so let’s give them that for sh*ts and gigs. 

How many of these 500 officers are likely to go undercover, then? How significant is the risk? 

Well, it’s hard to find statistics for an individual department (hence why they’re crossing them off payroll in the first place), so I can do naught but search for national statistics. For this, we turn to a third party. According to–not exactly an anti-cop bastion–less than 2% of cops will go undercover in their entire career. Let’s do some quick math: there are 530 officers on Chesterfield PD’s payroll. 2% of 530 is–wait for it–1.06. For those counting, 500 is a bigger number than 1.06. Significantly.

Wuh-oh! Something isn’t squaring here. Okay, okay–maybe it’s just an accounting error. A 92% accounting error.

I’m not sure which narrative I prefer–that the Chesterfield PD intentionally and maliciously scrubbed the names of their officers so they could avoid accountability for nepotism, bribery, fraud, and general misconduct (all of which happens regularly, as recently as last year), or that they are so unbelievably incompetent that they rounded up from Undercover Joe and someone’s big toe and got 500 officers. 

Either way, something needs to be done–and it can be. Activists have heavily criticized this move, and although the department has won once in court, Andrew Bodoh, the attorney representing the legal case against the department, insists he will bring the case to a circuit court and then an appeals court should the circuit court fail to see reason.

In the meantime, concerned citizens can write letters to the editor. Thanks to Virginia Organizing, that’s pretty easy to do. Head to this link, select a paper based on region (or scroll a little down to statewide papers), and follow the instructions to submit your letter. For help crafting your letter, check out this awesome rundown from the National Resources Defense Council.

You can also demand accountability from your elected officials. There are contested Supervisor elections in Bermuda, Clover Hill, Matoaca, and Midlothian–Dale’s election has effectively been decided with incumbent Democrat James Holland running uncontested. Monitor the candidates and their stances, show up for their town halls, and demand accountability. This is the best chance we have at setting this right, so let’s show up this November.

We don’t have to accept this BS from the police–or anyone. If we want to do away with these shady practices, though, we’ll have to stand together and declare in one voice, “No more”.

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