Two months into 2023, on Feb. 22, the Fairfax County Police Department faced another police shooting. It led to what can be a defining junction for the department: the April 2023 Review by noted policing think tank PERF. Fairfax County Chief Kevin Davis had joined the department one year and eight months before the Feb. 22 police shooting, on April 23, 2021, after leading Baltimore’s police.
Whether or not Davis incorporates PERF’s recommendations, especially to quickly incorporate ICAT Training as found in the April 2023 Review, and does so expeditiously, as PERF suggests, may shape the department for years to come.
“I am convinced that by working together and providing our police officers with more and better training in this vital area, we can save lives—and we can save officers’ careers and advance their well-being as well,” writes Chuck Wexler,
FCPD reported that the Feb. 22 foot pursuit by department officers in Tysons ended when two officers deployed deadly force, killing an unarmed Black suspect who allegedly stole sunglasses. However, the shooting came at the heels of 2022, when the department tied its 15-year historical record of police shootings, equaling those of 2008. The department that year saw six police shooting incidents deploying deadly force at a person or vehicle occupied by a person or persons, according to the department’s Officer-Involved Shooting Summaries.
"We were in contact with Chief Davis within days of the incident at Tysons Corner," said Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. "The Chief wanted an independent review of the circumstances surrounding the recent upticks in shootings in Fairfax County to identify any trends or areas where department training or police responses could be improved. The goal was to look at common denominators and trends and make recommendations that might reduce use of force in the future."
According to Lt. James Curry, FCPD Public Affairs Bureau, Davis has a long-standing relationship with Wexler and has frequent conversations with him related to PERF research and the police industry. Davis asked PERF to come in and perform this review, said Curry.
PERF immediately went on task and quickly presented its findings, dated April 2023. Founded in 1976, "PERF has identified best practices on fundamental issues such as reducing police use of force, developing community policing and problem-oriented policing, using technologies to deliver police services to the community, and evaluating crime reduction strategies," according to PERF’s website.
Curry added that historically, the Fairfax department has "been a leader among law enforcement agencies when it comes to adopting industry best practices. … We value PERF’s insight and recommendations of our department and strive to always improve for the betterment of our community."
When asked what the most significant finding was in PERF’s Fairfax review, Wexler said on June 26, "The most significant finding was that a person experiencing some type of mental health-related crisis was at the root of five of the seven shootings."
PERF’s 16-page review of the Fairfax department focuses on seven Fairfax police shootings from 7-19-21 to 10-6-2022. It does not include the Feb. 22 Tysons incident, at the request of Davis. But the report does comment on the shooting based on the public release of the body worn camera footage.
Wexler said, "Our recommendation was that the department steps up their training of ICAT, including suicide by cop, to give officers the ability to identify those in crisis and use communications, assessment, and tactical skills necessary to resolve incidents in a way that minimizes use of force."
PERF’s ICAT training is found to be associated with decreased use of force and injuries to both officers and residents. The program has been specifically developed to address incidents where individuals may not be carrying firearms but could be in the midst of a mental health or other type of crisis. It provides officers with tools and options to safely defuse a situation. "The training program is anchored by the Critical Decision-Making Model that helps officers assess situations, make safe and effective decisions, and document and learn from their actions," according to PERF.
Curry said that Davis has a history of bringing PERF and ICAT training to police departments. "He previously facilitated the launch of ICAT training at the Baltimore Police Department.”
However, in its April 2023 Fairfax review, PERF identified that in 2022, the Fairfax department recognized the need to train its officers on how to defuse critical incidents through the implementation of the PERF-developed program ICAT, but did not implement the program in 2022.
An online search verifies such. In the CY 2023 Equity Impact Plan by "Leadership Sponsor Kevin Davis, Chief of Police, and Equity Lead Major James Kraus." the department commits instead to spring of 2023. "During the spring of 2023, all FCPD officers will receive Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (iCAT) training. The training would provide officers with the tools, skills, and options they needed to defuse a range of critical incidents successfully and safely," states the CY 2023 Equity Impact Plan.
The findings and recommendations of PERF’s investigation documented that in the five police shooting cases, a bullet missed one person, while three others survived their police gunshot wounds. However, an FCPD officer fatally shot the fifth individual, a 32-year-old man who was reportedly breaking items in his family home and had a history of anxiety and depression. It is worth noting that the man was not considered to be violent, according to the dispatcher. Approaching officers with a bottle and a large mask, an 11-year veteran police officer discharged his firearm and fatally shot the man.
PERF refers in its Fairfax review to the research study, "Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters,” by the Treatment Advocacy Center. "A minimum of 1 in 4 fatal police encounters ends the life of an individual with severe mental illness. ... Where official government data regarding police shootings and mental illness have been analyzed—in one U.S. city and several other Western countries—the findings indicate that mental health disorders are a factor in as many as 1 in 2 fatal law enforcement encounters," the study states.
However, as of March 28, 2023, only 33 percent had completed the training program, and the department conducted its training sessions alphabetically. That meant that officers whose last names began with the letter "A," then "B," then "C," and so on, received training first, rather than prioritizing officers who frequently interact with the public.
PERF’s Recommendation #1 is that FCPD speed up its efforts to provide ICAT training to officers who have not yet received it.
ICAT is PERF’s Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT) training program. The data-proven program gives officers more tools, skills, and options for handling critical incidents, especially those involving subjects who are in mental distress and not armed with a firearm. View the report cited in the Fairfax review by PERF Louisville Metro Police Department's Initial Findings.
PERF suggests that given the Fairfax department’s significant increase in and prevalence of mental health crises in these incidents, it should consider how it can fast-track ICAT training. PERF notes this “particularly for those officers in operational roles such as Patrol, Operations Support, Violent Crimes, and Organized Crime and Narcotics."
PERF recommended in its review, "Paying overtime and running two training sessions per day are among the options worth considering to ensure the FCPD personnel who most need ICAT training receive it as soon as possible." They also recommend that the department prioritize this training for officers who will interact with the public the most.
Curry said, “The leadership of Chief Davis is a critical reason why our department began this training … As Fairfax County Police Chief (Davis) continues to ensure this valuable training and others are provided to all our FCPD members, To date, 804 officers have completed ICAT training, with the remainder of the Department to finish by the beginning of October. This training is a priority for all sworn members of FCPD, to include our specialized units. "
ICAT training covers "suicide by cop" and identifying people in crisis, according to its review. PERF found that officers should be trained to recognize crisis situations, especially suicidal ones, and avoid escalating the situation. The officers in three of the Fairfax police shootings were aware of a mental health crisis, and subjects displayed early signs of premeditated or spontaneous suicide by cop, according to the report.
Responding officers were notified that a woman had threatened to knife herself and others in one case, and in another situation, a nonviolent man was depressed and anxious. In two situations, police fired when people charged at them.
PERF’s Recommendation #2 advises FCPD in its review to use the critical decision making model in training and promote the model "throughout the culture of the organization.
"Opportunities for integrating [the critical decision making model] CDM throughout the organization include departmental policy, training modules across a range of topics, after-action reviews, Performance Review Boards, supervisory use-of-force reviews, body-worn camera audits, and roll-call briefings. … Training officers to more effectively slow down and think — rather than quickly react and respond — can affect their ultimate decisions.”.
PERF’s Recommendation #3 is that FCPD should modify General Order 609, - Mental Health Calls for Service. The order does not currently require or recommend that first-line supervisors respond to mental health-related crisis calls. PERF noted that supervisors can play an extremely important role in helping to resolve these incidents safely.
In its Fairfax review, PERF referred to its 2021 report, "Suicide by Cop: Protocol and Training Guide," and said that the presence of a supervisor could have a stabilizing effect on other officers. "As first-line supervisors, sergeants can also assign roles, establish perimeters and staging areas, request additional resources, and coordinate the entire response."
PERF reported on other incidents that might also benefit from the review. The department officers chased with their guns drawn. PERF discovered in its Fairfax review a 2023 public video that “appears to show a sergeant chasing a man.” Ultimately, he drew and fired his gun, killing the man who allegedly stole a pair of sunglasses from a department store. PERF states the use of ICAT’s cornerstone, critical decision-making, "may have led the officer to think through other available options from the start and may have inspired a different response."
Chairman Jeff McKay said on June 26 that in Fairfax County, they review their practices, training, and policies on a continual basis to ensure best practices. "Whether it is through the co-production of policy, implementing programs like Diversion First and the co-responder model, or engaging outside experts like PERF, we are committed to leading the way for what policing in the 21st century should be.