Commentary: Police Push-back on Commission Recommendations

Commentary: Police Push-back on Commission Recommendations

The Fairfax County Commission on Police Practices submitted its unanimous report to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) over eight months ago. The BOS praised the Commission and its work consisting of 142 recommendations for reform of the County Police.

Commission Chairman Michael Hershman told the Board that, if implemented, the recommendations would be transformational, making the FCPD one of the top forces in the nation. Despite the auspicious start, implementation of the report is moving at a glacial pace. To date, only about 10 per cent of recommendations have been approved to implement.

When the Board designated Deputy County Exec for Public Safety (and former Police Chief) David Rohrer and current Police Chief Edwin Roessler to guide the process of approval and implementation, I was concerned.

I could see the logic of handing it to those overseeing the Police. At the same time, it was these two men who shaped the composition and the culture of the force so lacking in transparency and accountability that it finally led to public outrage and indeed creation of the Commission as a result of events following John Geer’s murder.

While Chief Roessler talks of re-engineering his department and making “the sanctity of life” and transparency centerpieces of his new management philosophy, to date the glowing talk has far outpaced implementation.

He has delayed key actions, such as requiring officers to carry less lethal tasers on patrol; developing plans for body cameras, proven effective tools in monitoring police behavior; agreeing to reveal names of officers who shoot civilians-a lack of accountability that led to the Commission’s creation; and taking a position on establishing an independent auditor and civilian review panel for sorely needed oversight.

In addition, FCPD has no less than five union-like police associations. In the months since the Commission’s Report was completed, the presidents of two of them—the Fraternal Order of Police and the Fairfax Coalition of Police—often attacked the Commission’s work, although both were members of it.

FCP President Sean Corcoran, for example, decried the de-escalation of tensions approach to deal with crises, arguing that “overwhelming force” is the way to go. And, in the weeks leading up to the latest BOS meeting, police officers were sent to lobby each supervisor against key recommendations for greater accountability, transparency and more.

They argued most forcefully against revealing the names of police who shoot civilians (e.g., John Geer) and independent oversight and civilian review of allegations of police abuses such as excessive use of force.

At its June 21 meeting, the Board seemed weary of the subject of police reforms. I wondered if eight months of delays, the byzantine recommendations spreadsheets from Mr. Rohrer and Chief Roessler, and the constant pounding and lobbying by the police associations were taking their toll on the Supervisors.

The BOS appeared to finally approve “implementation plan[s] for the recommendations of the Commission’s Use of Force” and “Communications Subcommittees” following long, confused and sometimes heated deliberations.

Some supervisors seemed uncertain what it was they were approving. Republican Supervisor Pat Herrity was in campaign mode, wondering aloud why the BOS was spending any time at all on reform! Another supervisor expressed frustration at colleagues who seemed unfamiliar with the subject matter. Still, Chairman Bulova seemed determined to keep the process on track.

On July 19 at 1 p.m., there will be a critical meeting of the supervisors at the County Government Center out past the Fair Oaks Mall. They will grapple for the first time with the recommendations on Independent Oversight and Investigation, the creation of an Independent auditor and a modest Civilian Review Panel. This is the bullseye for the marksmen of anti-reform police unions. Come and watch.