The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Shielding officers’ identities would be an injustice for victims of police abuse

Virginia state Sen. John A. Cosgrove Jr. (R-Chesapeake) is the sponsor of a bill that would exempt the names and training records of law enforcement officials from Freedom of Information Act requests. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

The Feb. 21 editorial "Virginia police, behind masks" was on target, but it did not note one particularly perverse consequence of the proposed legislation to hide the identities of Virginia law enforcement officers.

Aggrieved people seeking redress from police abuse must file suit within a statutory period of limitations; in Virginia, that limit is two years. As a civil rights lawyer, I have had numerous victims come to me at the last moment, having been unable to identify counsel willing to take their cases, subject as they are to potent legal defenses available to public officials only. If they lack the offending officer's name and time does not suffice to obtain it, they may end up without a remedy. A lawsuit filed against "John Doe" or "Jane Doe" may be insufficient to protect a claim against the subsequent expiration of the period of limitations. If the offending officer's or officers' names are unascertainable, the result is either the failure of righteous claims that would have vindicated public as well as private interests, or the unnecessary and costly involvement of the employing county or city in preliminary litigation aimed principally at getting the alleged offenders' names.

Victor M. Glasberg, Alexandria