Editorial: Independent, Civilian Oversight in Place

Editorial: Independent, Civilian Oversight in Place

New auditor and panel will make an excellent police force better, more transparent and accountable.

In February, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors followed through in establishing two forms of independent oversight of law enforcement for the first time in county history.

Richard Schott will begin as independent auditor on April 17, reporting directly to the Board of Supervisors.

Nine members have been named to the county’s inaugural Civilian Review Panel, chaired by Adrian Steel. More than 140 Fairfax County residents applied to be considered to serve on the panel, and those named appear to have a remarkable set of qualifications.

Independent, civilian oversight of law enforcement is a national best practice.

Schott is a 27-year veteran of the FBI where he specialized in training on officer use of force, civil rights and color of law issues. He worked on the Henry Glover and Danziger Bridge civil rights cases, prosecutions of New Orleans Police Department officers for civil rights violations after Hurricane Katrina.

The Office of the Auditor will handle cases of police use of force that result in serious injury and death and the Civilian Review Panel will handle complaints about Fairfax County Police abuse of authority or misconduct.

These methods of oversight were adopted by the board following recommendations of the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission, established by Chairman Sharon Bulova in the wake of the police shooting death of John Geer and public reaction to 17 months when FCPD released no information about the case until forced to by court order.

Leadership of FCPD, especially Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr., have embraced the almost all of the 202 recommendations of the commission, which acknowledged the overall excellence of Fairfax County Police.

Nevertheless, the county’s first independent auditor will come on board with work to do.

In his mandate to monitor and review internal investigations of Police Department officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and use-of-force cases in which an individual is killed or seriously injured, Schott will begin with the investigation of the officer-involved shooting death of Herndon resident Mohammad Azim Doudzai in progress.

Among the questions for Schott will be why it took 45 days, rather than the recommended 10 days, to release the name of the officer involved in the shooting. The chief needed the additional time to fully investigate and mitigate any possible threats to the officer and his family, and respond to legal action by the officer seeking to stop the release of his name, a delay permitted by the new policy. The officer was involved in two other uses of deadly force, one in 2005 and one in 2010, with the suspect wounded but not killed in those two incidents. (The officer received valor awards for the 2005 incident for rescuing the store manager during an armed robbery with shots fired.)

Other questions that we hope the auditor can answer for the public:

According to the chief’s statement at the scene on the day of the incident, two officers used less lethal force (taser and foam bullet) while one officer fired his service weapon. Was a supervisor coordinating the plan? What was the sequence of events and uses of force? Was there an attempt to subdue the suspect without deadly force?

Why is so little additional information forthcoming about the incident? Subsequent releases have contained fewer details than were release on the day of the incident. What video exists and when will it be released?

The policy states: “It is important to note the 10 day period is primarily related to the release of officer names and is only designed as a limit to not be exceeded without cause, not a recommended standard, and the board and the public expect the Police Department to release other appropriate preliminary factual information and updates to the public as soon as possible.”

Another area of inquiry is analysis of data released last year that indicates 40 percent of the subjects of use of force by FCPD are African American, while only 8 percent of the county population is African American.

— Mary Kimm