The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to create the position and office of independent police auditor on Tuesday, Sept. 20, creating the first civilian, independent oversight of law enforcement in Fairfax County. The unanimous vote demonstrated the board’s commitment to the ongoing process that began early in 2015 when Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova established the 32-member Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission.
Police Chief Edwin Roessler expressed strong support for two keystone recommendations of the Ad Hoc Commission, the auditor and the Civilian Review Panel, next up for consideration and implementation by the Board of Supervisors.
Many commission recommendations have already been approved, including the establishment of the Diversion First program providing treatment rather than jail for people in mental health crisis, development of an overriding use of force policy, and more transparency in police communications.
Independent oversight and civilian participation in reviewing police use of force, officer-involved shootings and citizen complaints will play a vital role in maintaining Fairfax County Police Department’s reputation as being one of the very best law enforcement organizations in the nation.
Some critics complain that the final language approving the auditor limits the independence of the office, but the auditor will be briefed on investigations contemporaneously, providing a window of oversight and sunshine not previously in place. There are more than 200 different civilian oversight structures around the country. While civilian oversight is a national best practice, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommends that every community have community oversight of police, with each community developing the model that is best locally.
Public Safety Committee chair John Cook (R-Braddock) is tasked with shepherding major recommendations through the Board of Supervisors. He pointed out that the specifics of the approval for the auditor are not locked in stone; revisions after a period of experience would not be surprising.
Recommendations by the Independent Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee for the Fairfax County model included establishing the Independent Police Auditor and establishing a Civilian Review Panel to respond to community concerns or complaints about alleged incidents of abuse of authority by the FCPD.
The panel as proposed would not conduct investigations and would not be involved in the disciplinary process for any officer, but would review select investigations after they are complete. The panel would also not overlap duties with the auditor.
The panel could issue public reports, and meet with the auditor periodically, providing its views to the Board of Supervisors and the chief of police as to policy and practices changes that may be warranted. The panel could also hold periodic public forums around the county to gather information and suggestions about the FCPD, public perceptions and recommendations for policy and procedure, involving other police advisory committees and members of the Board of Supervisors as appropriate.
Indications are that there will be some modifications to the proposal for the Civilian Review Panel over the coming weeks. It’s a good time for those with interest to tune in.
The board’s Public Safety Committee will discuss the creation of a Civilian Review Panel at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center.
Read more at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/chairman/pdf/adhoc-final-10.8.15.pdf
— Mary Kimm
Mary Kimm served on the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission and continues to advocate for implementation of commission recommendations.