Last week, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a Civilian Review Panel, part of a two-pronged concept of independent oversight of law enforcement recommended unanimously by the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission.
On Sept. 20, 2016, the board voted to establish the Office of the Independent Auditor, the other piece of oversight. The two branches of oversight would not overlap.
The Independent Police Auditor will report directly to the Board of Supervisors and provide oversight in cases of police use of force that lead to serious injury or death, including officer-involved shootings. The Civilian Review Panel will respond to community concerns or complaints about alleged incidents of abuse of authority by FCPD by reviewing the investigations conducted by the department.
The vote by the Board of Supervisors for the Office of Auditor was unanimous, and for the Civilian Review Panel, 9-1, indicating the strong commitment to independent oversight and the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Commission. The experiences from other communities with civilian oversight have shown that strong, independent oversight builds legitimacy and public trust through increased police transparency and accountability to the public served. Oversight provides a meaningful voice or forum for the public and forms a crucial bridge between the public and the police. Increased transparency, trust, and communication between the police and the public can lead to greater community cooperation in achieving the ultimate goal of decreased crime and increased public safety.
This very positive outcome seemed nearly impossible in the wake of the death of John Geer in August 2013, shot by then Fairfax Police Officer Adam Torres while standing unarmed in the doorway to his own home. Officials had long opposed consideration of a Civilian Review Panel.
Board of Supervisor Chairman Sharon Bulova deserves tremendous kudos, first for establishing the Ad Hoc Commission in the wake of public outrage over the shooting and the blackout of information that followed, and then for her unwavering support of the recommendations that emerged.
In voting for the Civilian Review Panel, Supervisor Linda Smyth said: “We all know it’s time to put this in place. This is what the public has really asked us to do.”
John Cook (R-Braddock), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, has been relentless in moving the recommendations forward for discussion and approval by the board. Having both the auditor and the panel approved in 2016 is no small accomplishment.
The recommendations for oversight also have the enthusiastic support of Police Chief Edwin Roessler, whose support overall for change in the FCPD has been admirable and essential.
Every member of the Board of Supervisors deserves credit for engaging on the details and supporting recommendations of the commission.
Other changes brought about by the Ad Hoc Commission’s recommendations include the implementation of Diversion First, which provides treatment rather than jail for nonviolent people with mental illness, resulting in some 350 diversions from potential criminal arrest, and in police transporting more than 1,000 people in mental health crisis to the Merrifield Center for treatment; an emphasis on de-escalation and on crisis intervention training; the revamping of the order of officer training to emphasize the role of policing in a democracy and the sanctity of life ahead of firearms training; and the significant amendment of General Order 540 on the use of force. The FCPD has been a leading force in these changes, and its leadership has played a pivotal role in seeking out and implementing best practices.
There are still miles to go, but evidence is that county and police leadership are prepared to traverse those miles.
— Mary Kimm
Mary Kimm served on the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission and continues to advocate for ongoing implementation.
SoberRide Safety Net for Holiday Celebrations
The annual Holiday SoberRide program, offering free rides home to locals over 21 who have been celebrating with alcohol, will operate between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. each evening between Friday, Dec. 16, 2016 and Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017 as a way to keep local roads safe from impaired drivers during this traditionally high-risk, holiday period. SoberRide is organized by the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Project. Area residents celebrating with alcohol may call the toll-free SoberRide phone number 1–800–200–TAXI for a no-cost (up to $ 30 fare), safe way home. Last December, nearly 1,500 people took advantage of the program.
More information about WRAP’s SoberRide initiative can be found at www.soberride.com.