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October 10, 2017

Update: On Oct. 3, 2017, Virginia State Police responded to our transparency concerns in a letter, stating that the department has taken appropriate actions and instructed its supervisors to ensure the intentional covering of officers' nametags will not happen again.

RICHMOND—The ACLU of Virginia sent Virginia State Police a letter today, raising concerns over on-duty VSP officers who had placed black tape over the name strips affixed to their uniform shirts. The letter was addressed to Col. W. Steven Flaherty, VSP superintendent, who was present but took no action to correct the officers.

In the letter, ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga cited VSP’s “utility uniform” and noted that while the policy technically does not prohibit an officer from obscuring the required name strips with tape, any such action is in clear violation of the spirit of the policy requiring officers to wear a uniform with a cloth name strip. “Such a policy is designed to ensure that the public knows by whom they are being policed,” the letter states. “On-duty law enforcement officers should never attempt to hide their identities from the public they are policing.”

In addition, at the same Sept. 16 event, four people were arrested and charged with a felony based on a questionable state law – § 18.2-422 – that prohibits the wearing of masks in public with the intent to conceal one’s identity. These people are now facing possible prison time and lifelong ban on voting for the acts they committed, although their intent—to remain anonymous and avoid harassment—is the same as that of VSP officers who covered their nameplates.

The ACLU-VA urged VSP to revise its uniform policy to make explicit what is not implicit –that it prohibits your officers from “masking” their identities in public by obscuring required name strips on their uniforms. “Public officials performing their duties in public should be readily identifiable on sight by the members of the public they serve,” stated the letter. “Lack of transparency and accountability that encourages an atmosphere of secrecy and anonymity in policing only serves to undermine trust between the public and law enforcement. This is especially true where, as here, officers concealed their identities in circumstances where it is a felony for members of the public to conceal theirs for similar reasons.”

Download and read the full letter below.