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Agencies cooperate on officers' training
Friday, July 13, 2012
By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer
A local prosecutor’s effort to train law enforcement officers on new laws and court decisions relevant to them got a boost this year thanks to officials with several state agencies.
Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell has held training on new state laws that affect law enforcement officers annually since he became commonwealth’s attorney in 1990, he said.
A few years ago, the state Department of Criminal Justice Services approved allowing officers who take the training to receive in-service credits toward their annual training requirements, Bushnell said.
Offering the credits boosted attendance because it gave officers an incentive to take part, he said.
The training, generally held in early July, always includes information about new laws passed that year by the General Assembly. Such laws typically go into effect July 1.
Last year, Bushnell also included a presentation on court cases that might affect law enforcement personnel. He said he spent hours preparing the presentation, which he later forwarded to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services for approval. Officials there liked the presentation and asked if they could use it to train others, which Bushnell agreed to, he said.
This year, several agencies worked together to prepare a similar presentation for statewide use, he said. The Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Services Council compiled information on new laws, and for the first time, the state attorney general’s office gathered information on court rulings that affect law enforcement personnel.
The Department of Criminal Justice Services distributed the resulting presentations to prosecutors throughout the state, Bushnell said. Local prosecutors were free to tweak the presentations to fit the needs of their areas, he added.
Last year, Bushnell began teaching the training at the Piedmont Regional Criminal Justice Training Academy, which serves officers in Henry, Patrick and Pittsylvania counties, the cities of Martinsville and Danville, and the towns of Gretna and Chatham. He did the same this year and had between 50 and 60 students attend the first session July 5 and about the same number were at Tuesday’s session. The third and final session is planned later this month.
Among the laws and cases highlighted in this year’s training is a Jan. 23 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a case involving police use of GPS tracking devices. In the case, U.S. vs. Jones, the justices ruled that police cannot place tracking devices on vehicles without first obtaining a warrant or the consent of the vehicle’s owner, Bushnell said.
When the decision came down, it became clear to Virginia prosecutors that existing state statutes on search warrants wouldn’t really apply in that kind of case, because a search warrant allows an officer to go somewhere, search the place and seize things, Bushnell said. What officers needed permission to do in this kind of case was put a device somewhere and use it to gather information, he said.
By the time the Supreme Court ruling was released, Virginia’s deadline for lawmakers to file legislation in the General Assembly had passed, so no legislator could introduce a new law to address the situation.
Bushnell praised Gov. Bob McDonnell, who stepped in and introduced relevant legislation that was passed by lawmakers. The new law creates a different kind of warrant for GPS tracking, Bushnell said.
He added that to his knowledge, evidence of GPS tracking has not been introduced in a criminal prosecution in Henry County. However, he said, once local officers have learned about the Supreme Court’s ruling and the new state law, “It’s now a tool that comes with instructions, and I certainly hope and expect that local law enforcement will use it” in appropriate cases.
That is one example of the dozens of statues and cases included in this year’s training, Bushnell said. Having the support and assistance of the attorney general’s office, governor’s office and state Department of Criminal Justice Services makes the process easier, “and I think a more productive training,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, the goal is to help officers do their jobs better — which should, in turn, help protect the public.
Bushnell said he believes the cooperative effort between the different agencies will continue.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to have well-trained police officers,” he said.