Public Comments for 02/17/2023 Public Safety
SB820 - Va. Opioid Use Reduction & Jail-Based Substance Use Disorder Treatment & Transition Fund; created.
SB1046 - Law-enforcement officer; definition includes fire marshal with police powers.
I am Chief Maggie DeBoard of the Herndon Police Department, representing the VA Association of Chiefs of Police. We are adamantly opposed to this bill. We have worked cooperatively and passionately over the past two years with the General Assembly to pass police reform bills to increase training standards, accountability, and qualifications. We also have increased categories for decertification, a process we take very seriously. Allowing Fire Marshalls to become certified LEOs without being held to these same standards, essentially providing a path to bypass them, is contrary to all of the work we have done. Fire Marshals do not work for law enforcement agencies, and by code, cannot have LEO certification. They do not go through the same level of training, are not held to the same standards or accountability, and are not subject to decertification under DCJS. This creates an inequity, a double standard. This will also open the door for other groups to become certified officers who also don't meet the standards our legislators have put in place. As a current member of the DCJS Executive Board who hears decertification appeals every other month, and takes that responsibility seriously, I have to ask, who will hold Fire Marshals accountable for unacceptable behavior? Who will serve as a decertifying authority, as DCJS only has authority over law enforcement agencies. Fire Marshals do not work for law enforcement agencies. And this bill does not change that. The slope is quite slippery here. We ask much of our LEOs for the job they do. We can't diminish the requirements and standards to becoming a certified law enforcement officer without applying all of the same requirements. Other questions would also arise as to whether Fire Marshals would be eligible for LODA and LEORS, again without having to achieve or maintain standards or accountability. This is a bad bill for our profession. We respectfully ask that you not support it.
SB 1046 would place approximately 500 local fire marshals into the Code section that would classify them as law enforcement officers. The law enforcement training that fire marshals receive is not even half of the required training for police officers, much of which is specifically mandated by the General Assembly. Additionally, fire marshals do NOT work for authorized law enforcement agencies, which is required for any other certified law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth. Their actions would not be subject to decertification because they are not meeting the requirements for certification. The Virginia police chiefs oppose this bill.