Matrix, Sunlight Discussed at Fairfax County Public Safety Committee

Matrix, Sunlight Discussed at Fairfax County Public Safety Committee

Community, advocacy groups and police give more than 2,500 suggestions on police reform; Governor signs reform bills from special session

Police reform includes improving morale for police officers. “I’ve met with hundreds of Fairfax County police officers in recent months, in group settings and individually,” said Public Safety Chairman Rodney Lusk (Lee), “and to a person they have told me morale within the police department is the lowest that it has ever been.”

“This is a public safety issue that must be addressed in order to ensure that our officers are performing at the highest level possible, and that we are retaining the highly skilled law enforcement professionals that we have invested so much time and resources in training,” said Lusk.

“I’m glad to see that here, formally, as you know,” said Supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield). “We’re already a little late.”

Last Tuesday, Oct. 27, Lusk announced a Community Input Matrix, a database of 32-pages of policy suggestions from residents, advocacy groups and law enforcement on the topic of police reform. These are suggestions from the community and groups, not official positions of the Board of Supervisors. 

Lusk received and sorted more than 2,500 submissions over the last three months.

At the Board’s Public Safety Committee meeting he shared the suggestions he has received with the greatest frequency and items the Board of Supervisors could address in the near term.

“I’ve met with hundreds of Fairfax County police officers in recent months, in group settings and individually, and to a person they have told me morale within the police department is the lowest that it has ever been.”

— Public Safety Chairman Rodney Lusk (Lee)

ACCURACY AND ACCESS to public safety data was highlighted, including the need for FCPD to ensure its technology vendor has the capability to meet current needs, including gathering ethnic and demographic data.

James Walkinshaw (Braddock) said immediate release of data is critical. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he said. “My view on data is to put the data out there and let people discuss it.”

Some advocates suggested the quarterly release of arrest and use of force data rather than waiting for annual reports issued by police.

“It’s important for all of us to know that both sets [total arrests and arrests of Fairfax residents] show disproportionate numbers,” with Black and Latino people overrepresented, said Walkinshaw. “That doesn’t mean that all of our police officers are racists; the world isn’t quite that simple. But it does mean that there are structures in our society, including here in Fairfax County, that push us towards a justice system that is disproportionate and unequal.”

“There are structures in our society, including here in Fairfax County, that push us towards a justice system that is disproportionate and unequal.”

— James Walkinshaw (Braddock)

SOME SUGGESTIONS came from the Fairfax County Police Civilian Review Panel. Newly passed legislation at the state level could allow the Board of Supervisors to give new authority to the Civilian Review Panel, including investigative power. Lusk said the Board could also authorize hiring of an Executive Director for the review panel.

“We have a pretty big grouping and a serious number of requests and recommendations that have come in, so the idea here is to figure out how do we start to disaggregate them and take steps to act on them,” said Lusk. “We’re going to have to make a decision pretty much on each of them and will have some sort of response.”

Some matrix items will be referred to existing working groups to report back to the Public Safety Committee, for example the Body Camera Working Group and the Chief’s Data Working Group.

Included are some of the other near term possibilities: 

  • Consider and discuss implementation of state legislation related to the decertification of law enforcement officers who have been terminated or resigned for misconduct.
  • Review training, recruitment and retention standards
  • Accelerate the expansion of crisis intervention training for first responders.
  • Build upon existing department efforts to expand cultural sensitivity and implicit bias training.
  • Review entry level pay and benefits standards that may be affecting recruitment.
  • Conduct a joint review with the School Board of student diversion programs to address inequities.
  • Direct staff to undertake a review and update of the Ad-Hoc Committee recommendations.

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS Chairman Jeff McKay called the Matrix “a parking lot of ideas” that, in the future, “must be adjudicated by this Board based on data, input, conversation, and each of these would have to be acted on in some form.”

“Some of these will go off to other committees, some will go through this committee, but none of them will go anywhere before they come to the full Board for adoption,” said McKay.

View the draft “matrix” of community suggestions here:

AT THE STATE LEVEL, Gov. Ralph Northam signed new laws on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, including House Bill 5055 and Senate Bill 5035, which empower localities to create civilian law enforcement review boards. These new laws also permit civilian review boards the authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions. Northam signed Senate Bill 5014, which mandates the creation of minimum crisis intervention training standards and requires law enforcement officers complete crisis intervention training.

Senate Bill 5030, omnibus police reform legislation, incorporates a number of critical reform measures passed by the House of Delegates including:

House Bill 5099 prohibits law enforcement officers from seeking or executing no-knock search warrants, making Virginia the third state to do so.

House Bill 5069 limits the circumstances in which law enforcement officers can use neck restraints.

House Bill 5029 requires law enforcement officers to intervene when they witness another officer engaging or attempting to engage in the use of excessive force.

House Bill 5049 reduces the militarization of police by prohibiting law enforcement from obtaining or using specified equipment, including grenades, weaponized aircraft, and high caliber firearms. 

House Bill 5109 creates statewide minimum training standards for law enforcement officers, including training on awareness of racism, the potential for biased profiling, and de-escalation techniques. 

House Bill 5104 mandates law enforcement agencies and jails request the prior employment and disciplinary history of new hires.

House Bill 5108 expands and diversifies the Criminal Justice Services Board, ensuring that the perspectives of social justice leaders, people of color, and mental health providers are represented in the state’s criminal justice policymaking.

House Bill 5051 strengthens the process by which law enforcement officers can be decertified and allows the Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings.

House Bill 5045 makes it a Class 6 felony for law enforcement officers to “carnally know” an arrestee or detainee.

Governor Northam also signed Senate Bill 5018 which allows individuals serving a sentence for certain felony offenses who are terminally ill to petition the Parole Board for conditional release; and amended House Bill 5148 and Senate Bill 5034 which allow for increased earned sentencing credits. The Governor proposed a six-month delay to give the Department of Corrections sufficient time to implement this program.