Editorial: Sea Changes in Policing?
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Editorial: Sea Changes in Policing?

Report offers blueprint for transforming aspects of policing, jail and services for people with mental illness.

Yesterday, for the first time in the history of Fairfax County Police Department, a Fairfax County Police officer was charged in a shooting death.

On Monday, Aug. 17, former Fairfax County Police officer Adam Torres was charged with the second-degree murder of John Geer, following an indictment returned by a special grand jury convened by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh. It appears to be only the second time in history that the Commonwealth’s Attorney has convened a grand jury in an officer-involved shooting.

John Geer was shot dead in the doorway to his own own home on Aug. 29, 2013 after police were called in a domestic dispute. Torres was fired in July 2015, almost two years later.

FCPD began by releasing almost no information. It took a year-and-a-half, a judge’s order, a U.S. senator’s probing, and public outrage (the most important of these being the court order) to get information about the investigation.

But the public outrage led the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to form the Fairfax County Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission, which has been meeting since April both as a commission and five subcommittees involving thousands of hours of work by about 70 people. Areas of focus by committee include Use of Force; Communications; Mental Health; Recruitment, Diversity and Vetting; and Independent Investigations and Oversight.

Communications recommendations came out last month, well worth reading on the commission website.

Police and county officials recognize that the world is changing around them, and have engaged in the process. The kind of changes needed represent a massive change in culture and approach, and none of it will happen overnight, but the process has started.

Several developments, beyond the indictment of Torres, mark progress and opportunity for change.

Last week, FCPD Chief Edwin Roessler posted a website summary of all officer involved shootings, a major step and a work in progress. The department is wrestling with communications initiatives on many levels.

Get Involved

The public is invited to speak at the next meeting of the Fairfax County Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission:

Monday, Sept. 14, 7:30 p.m.

Walt Whitman Middle School

2500 Parkers Lane, Alexandria VA 22306

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/policecommission/

  • Read the Mental Health Subcommittee’s final report and recommendations:

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/policecommission/materials/mhcit-draft-report-august14.pdf

  • See Fairfax County Police Department website on Officer Involved Shootings

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/police/inside-fcpd/063015ois.htm

This week, the report released from the Mental Health and Crisis Intervention Training Committee marks a remarkable opportunity for Fairfax County to transform the way it provides services to people with mental illness. Recommendations reach beyond the police department to the county jail and the Community Services Board, which provides mental health services in the county.

Police are often the first responders in a mental health crisis. The jail is the county’s largest facility for people with mental illness. The costs, financial and human, of dealing with mental health in this way are enormous. The 26 recommendations of the Mental Health Subcommittee, presented by committee chair and state delegate Marcus Simon, offer the county a path to getting it right.

Recommendations including fully implementing the “Memphis model” of crisis intervention, which provides for response teams including officers specially trained in de-escalating situations with people in mental health crisis; creating a system of getting treatment rather than incarceration for people with mental illness; creating a mental health docket in the courts; funding a second Mobile Crisis Unit under the Community Services Board; establish strategically located, 24-hour crisis intervention sites where police can safely transfer custody of person in crisis without taking them to jail.

How much will it cost? It will require upfront money, but it costs $50,000 annually to house someone in the Fairfax County Detention Center. To provide intensive therapy in the community costs $7,500 a year.