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Letter to the Editor: A Code of Silence

To the Editor:

The Virginia Freedom of Information (FOIA) is a state law that gives you ready access and the right to obtain government information and public records in Virginia.

It is important to note, the custodian of records “may” — at his or her discretion —release records even if there is a FOIA exemption attached to it unless another part of the Code of Virginia would specifically prohibit such release. Unfortunately, most law enforcement agencies in Virginia arbitrarily and unwisely choose not to release records to the media and the public in general. This lack logic. Law enforcement agencies must be brought to the reality that government information in Virginia is presumed public. The “Code of Silence” exercised by the Virginia law enforcement community is contrary to that of most police organizations in our country. Hiding behind a “wall of silence” does not promote good police-public relations. This deep-rooted non-cooperation with the public should be eliminated sooner than later.

Efforts to correct this inequity in the Virginia General Assembly has been obstructed by the aggressive and strong police lobby.

Out grassroots citizen advocacy organization, the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Inc. (CCPA) has consistently experienced denials of our FOIA requests from Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies and particularly the Fairfax County police. Most of our requests were related to allegations of excessive force or for several highly questionable shooting deaths of unarmed citizens by the police. All of these requests were made after the police declared their investigations were completed and closed.

The public’s comments regarding this issue are being sought. If you wish to comment, please email us at virginiaccpa@aol.com.

Nicholas R. Beltrante

Executive Director

Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Inc.