Column: Police Reform Now A Distinct Possibility

Column: Police Reform Now A Distinct Possibility

The Fairfax County Ad Hoc Commission to Review Police Practices is completing its final recommendations to reforms of Fairfax County law enforcement. The Commission was formed in response to growing public concern following the Police killing of unarmed John Geer--and other questionable killings including those of David Masters, Hailu Brook, Salvatore Culosi, and Ronald Rollins—all unarmed. Most recently, Natasha McKenna was tasered to death in the County jail. Investigations of police killings and misconduct performed only by fellow officers in secret finally broke the public trust.

The Commission, consisting of nearly 40 members who included one-third uniformed officers or former law enforcers, at first seemed unlikely to deliver the reforms essential to bring accountability, transparency, and the cultural shift required to make the FCPD a first class, community-friendly force. It turns out I underestimated the talent and dedication among the commissioners. The final report now taking shape indeed includes far-reaching recommendations which, if approved and if implemented would lead to the changes so badly needed. As drafted, Commission recommendations would dramatically improve FCPD communications with the public it serves; would emphasize problem solving in enforcement versus command and control; would divert subjects of law enforcement suffering from mental health disorders from incarceration to treatment; would establish an Independent Auditor to review police investigations of police shootings; and, would create a Civilian Review Panel to receive complaints of police abuse and misconduct. Issues have been studied, discussed and argued at length within the Commission. With few exceptions, the commissioners have recognized that change in, and oversight of, FCPD are essential. The final reports of three of the Commission’s five subcommittees are complete. The last two are in draft. By the way, all reports are available at

But, let’s not count the chicks before they are hatched. There are crucial steps remaining to make some or, dare I hope for, all recommendations a reality. They must be adopted by the Commission, then approved and then implemented through the Board of Supervisors where too often good plans go to die. Community participation in these sessions is welcome, indeed vital, if all the good work is to yield results and not just be relegated to a shelf.

The key meetings are:

*Oct. 8: The Ad Hoc Commission discusses and votes on adoption of recommendations. Meeting 7:30-9:30 p.m. in rooms 9/10 at the FC Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax

*Oct. 20 at 11 a.m.: Commission Chair Hershman presents Report of the Commission to the FC Board of Supervisors, Gov’t Center Main Boardroom.

*Oct. 27 at 3 p.m.: Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee considers approval, actions to implement Commission Report. (Gov’t Center)

One other opportunity for the public to weigh in on the Commission’s deliberations is the second of two public input hearings, to be held Monday, Sept. 14 at Walt Whitman Middle School, 2500 Parkers Lane in Alexandria. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m., to be done by 9:30. Call me if you need a ride!