Advancing Trust Between Police and Community

Advancing Trust Between Police and Community

Police Civilian Review Panel seeks more authority, set to get an executive director.

The Police Civilian Review Panel asked the Board of Supervisors to enhance its ability to investigate complaints against the police. 

“There probably should be a way for the panel to look at more than simply the information provided by the Internal Affairs Bureau [of the Fairfax County Police Department.] Currently, the IAB is the sole gatekeeper for an investigation and that is not a recipe for independence,” said James N. Bierman Jr., chair of the Police Civilian Review Panel, at a Public Safety Meeting last month.

“The Civilian Review Panel cannot simply be seen as another arm of FCPD. and in order to be successful we need to be seen as a fair arbiter,” he said.

The all-volunteer panel reviewed 67 complaints about the police the last two years, 32 in 2019-2020 and 35 in 2020-2021. Some 38 cases were brought to the Civilian Review Panel directly (18 in 2019-2020 and 20 in 2020-2021). 

“The point is to make sure the police department and the community trust each other and can work well together so we have enhanced public safety,” said Bierman. 

“The point is to make sure the police department and the community trust each other and can work well together so we have enhanced public safety.” 

— James N. Bierman Jr., chair, Police Civilian Review Panel

BOS RECENTLY APPROVED the hiring of an Executive Director for the Police Civilian Review Panel, a position that is currently advertised, see the complete job listing.

“Let me tell you why I’m so excited about having an Executive Director. The new executive director will have the ability to review investigations and draft reports. It's going to help professionalize the experience,” said Bierman.

According to county documents, “The Executive Director directs, manages, and coordinates the activities of the Fairfax County Police Civilian Review Panel (Panel). This position provides an accessible, safe, impartial and transparent intake process for complaints against officers and employees of the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD). Advises and supports the panel on all matters pertaining to the independent review of FCPD investigations.”

Bierman presented the panel’s annual report as well as a comprehensive four-year review of the panel’s work since its origin in 2017.

“The panel’s work can be placed squarely in the context of a national conversation on race and police reform, happening during the middle of a global pandemic.” 

Following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, a car rally for justice was held outside the Board of Supervisors building. The police officer who killed Floyd was sentenced to 22 and ½ years in prison for murder. 

“Chief Roessler at that time pointed out in Fairfax County we do our best to have accountability and there’s even a police civilian review panel that you can go to and a police auditor in such situations,” said Bierman. “The recommendations matrix, the creation of a dialogue that is open and public between the panel and the FCPD, I think, is leading to better practices and better investigations. The quality of investigation from the IAB is improving,” said Bierman.

THE PANEL MADE 11 major recommendations, including the need for an executive director, an increase in its outreach efforts to the community and to the police, 

“Racial bias and racial profiling complaints still present a challenge to the FCPD and the paenl. It's obvious why these cases present a challenge. These cases are hard,” he said. “Let me step back a moment. These cases could be easy but they often aren’t. They often don’t involve something that is outward or very clear and we need to find ways to investigate allegations of racial bias and systematize such investigations.”

For more on the panel, see