Police officers from across Northern Virginia gathered Friday, May 19, to congratulate each other for their work in stopping drivers under the influence of alcohol, their badges still carrying the black band to honor their fallen comrades in Fairfax County.
"This has been a difficult week for us," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At Large) during the 15th annual Awards for Excellence in Community Service and Public Safety, organized by the Northern Virginia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Fairfax County Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP). Monday, May 8, two Fairfax County officers, Detective Vicky Armel and Lt. Michael Garbarino, were shot outside the Sully District station in Chantilly. Armel was killed that day, Garbarino died Wednesday, May 17, from his injuries.
"If there is some solace in this, it is the response of the community," Connolly said. "The bonding that has to occur between public safety and the public it serves is essential if it will work. It has been renewed, in a strange way."
A strong community is better able to look after itself, he said, and can help in reducing the number of people who drive after consuming alcohol.
Among the honorees was Loudoun County Deputy Aaron Taylor, who arrested 33 impaired drivers in 2005. Taylor has been with the Sheriff's Office since June of 2004 and is assigned to the Field Operations Division as a patrol deputy. Last year he made 15 felony arrests, 113 misdemeanor arrests and issued 251 citations.
"Our goal is simple," said Sheriff Steve Simpson, in a press release, of his agency's response to motorists driving under the influence of alcohol. "If you drink and drive, we're going to catch you."
AT THE CEREMONY, Connolly thanked the dozens of officers at the ceremony, organized to honor those who lead their regions in drunk-driving arrests, for their dedication to keeping Virginia roadways safe, reminding them that "two years ago, we were running a teenage fatality rate that was twice the national average."
Saying he was "proud to see" so many officers gathered at the breakfast, Fairfax County's ASAP director, Elwood Jones, discussed the importance of a partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the work his ASAP office is committed to carrying out.
"Each and every time you put on your uniform and badge, you're keeping our community safe," Jones said. "We don't say thank you enough."
Keynote speaker Bob Marbourg, a veteran traffic reporter from WTOP radio, said he's seen the changes in Northern Virginia roads for the past 20 years, from the time when I-66 was being built inside the Beltway to congestion that stretches from Gaithersburg, Md., out to Manassas.
"I'm disturbed by images in advertising, show a car full of teenagers listening to their favorite sounds while driving like a professional on a closed course," Marbourg said. "I'm disturbed by the insurance companies that show crashes are always accidents and treat moving violations as no big deal."
His biggest concern, he said, is continuing to treat driving under the influence of alcohol as a societal problem.
"We need to concentrate on breaking the connection between the supply and use of alcohol while driving," Marbourg said. "We need to look at fatalities and injuries and see it as a serious situation."
However, the efforts put forth by the officers honored are hard to measure.
"We can't measure what didn't happen because of your work, there's no way of knowing," he said.
Members of the police who work as school resource officers inside high schools have direct access to teenagers and "have the opportunity to shape their perceptions," Marbourg said.