Vivian’s Views: Law Enforcement

My Commitment
To You

As a long time member of the House Criminal Law subcommittee, I play a key role as a victim advocate. I will continue to use my tenacity and respect for the Law to work with attorneys and law enforcement in crafting enforceable laws that keep a focus on real world impacts. As a former Secretary of Public Safety overseeing prisons, I also have dealt with the high cost of focusing so much on punishment and so little on prevention.


Every day three Virginians die from gunfire – two are suicides.
  • Across the U.S., suicide is now the second leading cause of death for ages 10 – 24.  For all ages, firearms account for 51% of all suicides. (2016)
  • Most of the over 1,000 homicides of children nationwide each year don’t happen at school.  Only 3% are in school, on school grounds, going to and from school, or at school events. (1993-2015)  Black students are three times as likely and Hispanic students twice as likely to be affected.
  • 1/3 of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by an intimate partner.
  • In 4 minutes, over 150 bullets were shot at Sandy Hook 1st graders.  In 10 minutes, more than 1,100 rounds were fired at Las Vegas concert-goers.  In 32 seconds, 9 people were killed by the shooter in Dayton, even though law enforcement was on the scene and responded immediately.
  • The U.S. has 3 to 4 times as many gun deaths per 100,000 people than most developed countries because we have 3 to 4 times more guns in circulation according to U.N. country by country statistics.
  • Virginia is one of the top source states for guns recovered in crimes in other states, with a rate 61% higher than the national average (ATF).  Before Virginia’s ban on purchasing more than one-handgun-a-month law was removed, there had been a 54% reduction in the number of Virginia guns recovered in criminal investigations in the Northeast.
It is essential that we have common sense laws to address firearm safety.  Such proposals have been summarily killed in subcommittee.  After the May 2019 Virginia Beach mass shooting, the Governor called a Special Session to re-consider:
  • background checks for all sales to non-family members;
  • a due process to address “red flags” that someone might be a danger to themselves or others;
  • limits on high-capacity weaponry;
  • restore the ban on buying more than one handgun a month;
  • local control over guns during demonstrations;
  • demonstrated competence for a conceal-carry permit;
  • preventing unsupervised access to guns by children.
After just 90 minutes, the July Special Session was recessed until after the November 5th election.


Following the Parkland, Florida school shooting in 2018, the House of Delegates established a select committee, on which I served, to look at issues in the more than 193 school shootings since Columbine.  Its focus was on security, active shooter response, and behavior threat assessment – the focus excluded guns. It was determined that the significant initiatives in response to the death of 32 Virginia Tech students and faculty in 2007 put Virginia ahead of most states in hard measures to protect schools.
  • Every Virginia public school is mandated to have a threat assessment team with counselor, teacher, administration, and law enforcement members.
  • First responders are more effective because security steps are shared statewide.  For example,  65% of schools provide first responders internet-based access to floor plans. Nearly all schools prominently number outside doors in sequence.
  • 79% of Virginia high schools and 68% of middle schools have armed local law enforcement officers (SROs) in their school.  Nationwide, having SROs also paralleled a drop in schools reporting gang activity from 20% in 2001 to 11% in 2015.
  • In the 2016-17 school year, two-thirds of schools responded to concerns and conducted a total of 9,238 threat assessments.  Half involved current students; the rest involved staff and outsiders.  Half addressed possible suicides.  Of the 40 incidents where a potential threat became a real threat, half also were suicide attempts.
However, in dealing with student problems, Virginia ranks 3rd from the bottom in mental health services for children under 18. As a result of these findings, we determined that school safety would best be served by meeting student needs.  We put $12 million in the State budget of the $36 million it will take to support one school counselor for every 250 students (as recommended by the American Counselors Assoc) and $1.2 million to pilot programs to support schools with integrated mental health services for students needing additional care.


Today’s fear and suspicion of discriminatory law enforcement has many deep roots, including:
  • From Virginia’s beginning, Blacks were dehumanized.  Following the Civil War, Jim Crow laws – such as Virginia taking away felons’ right to vote in 1902 with the announced goal to “inevitably cut from the existing electorate four-fifths of the negro voters” through systematically charging Blacks with crimes – institutionalized ingrained racism in Virginia.
  • Public psychiatric beds in America have dropped over 90% since the 1950s but they weren’t replaced with adequate community care.  Now over 20% of the people who end up in jail have a serious mental illness compared to about 4% in 1955.  Moreover, it’s estimated “the risk of being killed during a police incident is 16 times greater for individuals with untreated mental illness than for other civilians approached or stopped by officers.”  (Treatment Advocacy Center, Overlooked in the Undercounted)
  • This chart shows deeply disturbing differences today per 1000 Virginia high school students in the treatment of Black students and of disabled students (includes physical, emotional, and intellectual.)   Suspensions mirror this pattern.

I serve on the legislative study launched after Sen. Deeds lost his son to untreated mental illness.  I also voluntarily attended most meetings of Fairfax County’s response to law enforcement-related deaths.  Needed and ongoing reforms throughout Virginia need to focus on findings such as
  • Fewer students are suspended, expelled, or brought to court in schools that balance structure with a nurturing climate.  This not only involves strong counselor programs from K-12, it also requires teachers with manageable class loads.
  • Low income youth are too often limited for life when they’ve been over-charged for minor crimes and are without legal counsel.  36 states set $1000 as the threshold for shop lifting before the offense becomes a felony carrying a lifetime stigma to employment.  In 2018, we raised Virginia’s $200 threshold set in 1980 to $500.  It should be raised further.
  • The judicial system’s blanket use of cash too often over-penalizes minor offenders.  In 2019, we ended suspending driver’s licenses solely for non-payment of court fees – a practice that too often led to minor offenders losing their jobs and plunged households into further deterioration.  We need to look further into the economic impacts of cash-bail.
  • Diversion First at five key points has been proven to significantly cut costs and lead to better outcomes.  It starts with Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) that instills in law enforcement the benefit de-esculating incidents, including getting better information if a crime has been committed.
  • Racial patterns in over-charging are particularly strong in marijuana possession and in adding mandatory minimum sentences for carrying a gun whether or not it was any part of the crime.  Reforms are overdue.


According to the head of the Fairfax County Police anti-gang unit, Virginia now has the toughest laws in the country.  Changes I’ve gotten passed include making it a criminal offense to brandish a machete to give police a tool to break up gang action; increasing the penalties for conspiracy and solicitation to commit a crime when minors and handguns are involved; and treating the aggravated malicious wounding of a pregnant woman – a particularly heinous form of gang vengeance – with the intent to kill the fetus the same as murder. However, the more I work with the issue of gangs, the more convinced I’ve become that the #1 thing we can do to prevent gangs is reduce class sizes, especially in elementary schools.  A child who feels they are part of society, doesn’t have to join a gang to “belong.”


Two playmates witnessed the random, brutal stabbing of an 8-year-old Alexandria boy, Kevin Shifflett, in the spring of 2000.   My legislative study and subsequent changes in the law allow child witnesses to such violence to testify via closed-circuit television, as I had previously changed the law to apply to child victims. Crime victims feel helpless when prosecutors believe the evidence is not strong enough to file charges. An alternative is to sue the suspect for damages, which requires less proof. In 2001, I removed a major hurdle to this means of pursuing some measure of justice by extending the 2-year statute of limitations on civil suits related to a crime. When I was Secretary of Transportation and Public Safety, Virginia became the first state to process and use DNA evidence. We are a leader in the development of a criminal DNA records bank to assist in solving violent crime. Virginia became the 6th state to use computerized finger-print identification which cleared a huge backlog of unsolved burglaries and other property crimes.


In 2006, my bill expanded the definition of child abuse/neglect to cover any parent or custodian who allows a child to be alone with someone who is required to register as a sexual offender. In 2005, I was able to get long-overdue reform to provide consistently greater criminal penalties against parents or grandparents who sexually abuse their child or use the child in the commission of any sexual crime, such as pornography. In 1999, working with a frustrated Fairfax police investigator – whom I’d gotten to know as Director of CASA working with the most severe cases of child abuse – I passed legislation to allow police to step-in and make an arrest before a child is physically contacted by a sexual predator who is cultivating him/her through the Internet. I was delighted when the Fairfax County Police Child Services Unit made me their first “Honorary Member” for this work.


(Also see discussions of campus sexual assaults under Higher Education and of harrassment as a workplace issue under The Economy)

   In 2019 and in 2016, I carried legislation to establish a comprehensive procedure to preserve physical evidence recovery kits (PERK) for victims of sexual assault, including retaining for at least 2 years if victim doesn’t contact a law enforcement agency, analysis within 60 days if law enforcement is notified, victims’ notification rights, and the means to track PERK kits by all agencies and victims. In 2014, I changed the law to make repeated, unwanted, sexual touching as groping and applies to recurring workplace sexual harassment as well as multiple stranger attacks like those that plagued Springfield neighborhoods. In 2008, I chaired the Criminal Law subcommittee of the Governor’s Sexual Violence Commission, which was successful in not making victims pay for medical services following rape, not requiring women reporting rape to take a mandatory screening polygraph, and removing subsequent marriage to a 14-year-old as a defense against prosecution for rape. In 2001, my bill prevents insurance companies from discriminating against victims of domestic violence in providing insurance including health, accident, life and property damage. In 1999, I was able to re-define the level of injury or force that must be proven in marital rape and largely ended the great discrepancies statewide in prosecution and sentencing. (In 2004, the separate offense of marital rape was done away with completely.)  I also passed legislation to require that stalkers stay out of visual and voice contact as well as physical contact. In 1998 and 1997, legislation I got passed (1) ensure police can respond rapidly to domestic violence calls with accurate information about past incidents and have the power to make arrests upon evidence of probable harm; (2) prevents persons charged with specified felony sex offenses from being released on bail if they have been previously convicted of one of those offenses; and (3) I worked with police to come down hard on possession of the “date rape drug” which became widely available largely because drug traffickers push this cheap drug (rohypnol) among young users as a way to enhance the effect of cocaine, heroine, and alcohol.  In addition, just as rape can be prosecuted under Virginia law if the victim was too drunk to resist, use of a “date rape drug” is punishable by 5 years to life. As an accessory, a person who gives the victim the drug can draw the same sentence.


In 2011, I worked hard to bring human trafficking fully under Virginia’s abduction and kidnapping laws, resulting in the national Polaris Project naming Virginia law as one of the most improved states and this personal note, “Thank you for everything you did and for being one of our champions on this important issue.  If it weren’t for you efforts the law would not be nearly as strong as it is today.” In brief, anyone who participates in any way to bring about an abduction is as guilty as the person who actually holds the person and – as it relates to most human trafficking – the penalty is 20 years to life. Abduction of any one under 18 for the purpose of manufacturing child pornography was added to Virginia law.  In addition, where a connection to an abduction can’t be proven, anyone who benefits from making anyone engage in forced labor or services, concubinage, prostitution, or the manufacture of any obscene material or child pornography can be sentenced to 2 to 10 years in prison.   Changes in the law are fully discussed in this link.

RECORD AS VIRGINIA’S SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION & PUBLIC SAFETY: (as complied in 1990 at the end of the appointment)