Starting in July, Virginia police chiefs will have the authority to impose curfews during civil unrest for up to 24 hours, as per a new bill signed by Governor Glenn Youngkin on March 28.
The bill, sponsored by Virginia Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, will allow law enforcement chiefs to set curfews if there is “an imminent threat of any civil commotion or disturbance in the nature of a riot which constitutes a clear and present danger.”
While local governing bodies, leaders and elected sheriffs already have the power to enact curfews, Norment’s bill aims to streamline the process for city police chiefs, effectively giving them more power to address rioting.
The bill received bipartisan support in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly, and passed the House with a 53–43 vote.
Despite the bipartisan backing, the Virginia NAACP urged Youngkin to veto the bill, expressing concerns that it gives police chiefs and city leaders too much power to determine what constitutes a civil disturbance.
Although the bill states that any decision to impose a curfew in a city must be made alongside the mayor and city manager, questions and concerns remain for the Virginia NAACP.
The organization shared its issues with the bill with both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly, including concerns about the lack of a provision requiring county police chiefs to take similar steps as city police chiefs.
The bill’s potential impact on people of color was also a concern, as violators could face a Class 1 misdemeanor charge carrying up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, which the Virginia NAACP deemed as exorbitant.
“This could lead to more people caught in the criminal justice pipeline,” Virginia NAACP President Robert Barnette said. “The penalty for this, a Class 1 misdemeanor, is far too excessive, and we’ve seen this snowball to unaffordable fees that have been detrimental to people who can’t pay.”
The bill allows exceptions for those traveling to or from home, work, a place of worship, the press, military and medical personnel, and others. The curfew can be extended with a vote from the local governing body or a court order, but police chiefs must specify the hours of the curfew, the area to which it applies and make “reasonable efforts” to inform the public before it goes into effect.
The legislation was introduced in response to the civil unrest and nationwide protests in 2020 following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.