Here we go again! We have another major Fairfax County Police controversy. I had thought our new, more progressive, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors would pay closer attention to police performance and to its role in oversight of the Police Department than its predecessors had. Not so, it seems.
The BOS unanimously approved hiring Kevin Davis as Police Chief after a supposedly thorough, nationwide search process. All of Davis’s prior service was within 30 miles of us, a history with multiple incidents of flagrant abuse of black citizens—two resulting in civil litigation which Davis lost in Prince George’s County, another resulting in an ACLU suit in Baltimore where as Chief he locked down an entire black neighborhood for 6 days in 2017 after a white detective died, possibly from suicide! Incredibly, Board members claim to be unaware of these disturbing misdeeds, all occurring very close to home! It seems they were not told by either the candidate, the search contractor or Deputy County Executive David Rohrer who presumably managed the search. This is hardly the due diligence one would expect from Supervisors in considering this sensitive, high profile appointment.
In fact, obliviousness by the entire Board is reminiscent of a prior Board’s failure to respond for six months to the 2013 police murder of unarmed John Geer, while FCPD stonewalled the community, refusing to reveal the killer or to explain what had happened. It took the intervention of a US Senator and mounting public pressure to get the Supes to take action, belatedly forming the Ad Hoc Commission to Review Police Practices on which I served.
What or who is it that somehow prevents Fairfax County’s top elected body from doing its job when it comes to supervising the 1,400-man force in blue? How is it that a supposedly nationwide search ends up picking a flawed candidate who’d served only in our back yard. Was he perhaps known to some in the FCPD?
There is a lot riding on this appointment. The troubled Police Department has major structural and policy problems. However, there are solutions within reach if obstacles to solving them are forthrightly addressed by a new Chief …and if the BOS develops the political will to support him. Here are the critical issues:
First, this force neither resembles nor lives in the community it serves. According to the FCPD’s own “Diversity Scorecard” of April 2021, Fairfax County’s population is over 35 percent Asian (19 percent) and Latino (16 percent) while the force in blue is barely 13 percent (5 & 7 respectively). Blacks make up 9 percent of the residents, 8 percent of the force. But, if you go a bit deeper, looking at managerial levels, the mix is even worse. Whites make up 78 percent of the force, more at management ranks. And, most officers do not live in the County, although their pay would enable them to do so. A starting rookie makes over $50K; many clear $100K with overtime.
It is a huge challenge for police neither resembling people they serve nor living near them, to develop mutual trust. There are no signs of improvement.
Turning to the framework for transformation of the force provided by a unanimous Ad Hoc Commission, we find key recommendations throughout the report either have been dropped, not been implemented, watered down or still delayed seven years after the report. (To see for yourself, go to the Ad Hoc Commission Report and the last implementation “progress report”, April 2021). Pushback from the four police associations (would-be unions) and acquiescence of the former Police Chief have watered down crucial recommendations to improve transparency (see Communications section). Recommendations targeting accountability (see Use of Force and Independent [civilian] Oversight) have been crippled. And, the section dealing with civilian oversight by a new Civilian Review Panel has been reduced to a toothless farce. Look closely at the carefully targeted edits that assure no civilian is allowed behind the steel blue curtain. Police misbehavior will continue to be investigated only by fellow officers.
In sum, what’s essential for the transformative reform intended by the Commission is a strong new Chief dedicated to known principles for reform and the backing of a Board of Supervisors with more effort and courage than we’ve seen to date. Prospects look pretty grim right now. While Fairfax civic groups and residents object and cite chapter and verse of Davis’s flaws, Chairman McKay and his colleagues appear content with Davis and with the status quo. Stay tuned.