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Should Virginia Police Be Able To Stop People Because Of Scent?

Virginia officers may soon lose a longtime policing tool: the ability to stop people on the street or search vehicles based on scent alone. The ACLU has stated that this tool gives police “an excuse for essentially over-policing people who have done nothing wrong.”

Senate Bill 5029, which has passed in the state Senate, would eliminate this practice. The bill was introduced by Portsmouth Senator Louise Lucas. Proponents of the bill believe it is an important step toward larger decriminalization efforts that will benefit many, including members of minority communities who tend to be disproportionately affected by these policing methods.

Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said that this step is “necessary to reform the criminal justice system” and will ultimately make communities safer by making people feel more comfortable approaching police if they witness or need to report a crime.

The bill also stipulates reducing certain traffic violations from primary to secondary, such as tinted window violations and license plate light violations.

Opponents of the bill, including Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Dana Schrad, argue that it will give drivers free reign to drive under the influence, endangering others on the road.

For the bill to become law, it still needs to be approved by the House of Delegates and signed by Governor Ralph Northam. A similar bill is also in the House, House Bill 5058. In the meantime, people should remember that they do have rights when interacting with police officers, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

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